University of Missouri-Columbia
MU Southwest Center
Agricultural Experiment Station
College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources
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Southwest Center RUMINATIONS
Oct - Dec 2006
Vol. 12, No. 4

Ozark Chinkapin Project Initiated in Southwest Missouri

By Andrew L. Thomas, Patrick L. Byers, and Skip Mourglia

The Ozark Chinkapin (Castanea ozarkensis) is a well-known nut tree, native to southwest Missouri and northwest Arkansas, that is facing extinction. The once-vigorous natural stands of Ozark chinkapin have been devastated by chestnut blight, the same disease that killed billions of related American chestnut (Castanea dentata) trees in eastern North America over the last century. This fungal disease was accidentally introduced to New York from Asia in 1904 on imported nursery stock of resistant oriental chestnut species. The blight spread throughout the natural range of the American chestnut, and eventually reached the Ozarks in the 1960's. Within a decade, the Ozark hills were littered with the dead, rotresistant carcasses of Ozark chinquapin trees that sometimes reached 60 feet high and 24 inches in diameter. Today, the chinkapin survives mostly as root suckers that re-sprout after the above-ground portion of the tree is killed, and therefore very few seeds are produced to re-populate the species. To date, no truly blightresistant Ozark chinkapin trees have been identified.

One can only imagine the historical and ecological significance of this species. Many Ozark natives fondly remember stuffing their pockets with "chinkapins" on their walks to school. They were a seasonal, sweet, nutritious treat eaten by humans, livestock, and wildlife. Small trees were used for fence posts due to their natural rot resistance. Ozark chinkapin is listed as "Imperiled" by the Missouri Natural Heritage Program, yet no formal recovery plan is in place, and the plight of this important Ozark species has been seriously neglected.

Despite long-term research focused on American chestnut, no cure for chestnut blight has been found. Until a treatment or resistant trees are developed, ex situ conservation (carefully-managed cultivation) is probably the best hope for the survival of this species. Before much else can be done to resurrect the species, we must first learn how to cultivate and propagate the tree, especially through grafting. Indeed, very little published information on chinkapin propagation and cultivation is available, and most of our current "knowledge" on propagation is based on unproven hunches. No known research orchards of Ozark chinquapin are presently in existence.

Thanks to a grant from the Northern Nut Growers Association, three orchards of Ozark chinkapin will be established this fall and winter in southwest Missouri. The grant was received by a consortium of people and institutions: University of Missouri's SW Center at Mt. Vernon, Missouri State University's State Fruit Experiment Station at Mountain Grove, and the USDA - NRCS - RC&D (Resource Conservation and Development) office in Republic. The orchards will be established at Mt. Vernon, Mountain Grove, and a private forest in Barry County.

This timely grant comes on the heels of the recent launch of the "Ozark Chinkapin Initiative" of the American Chestnut Foundation, as well as the establishment of the "Ozark Chinquapin Foundation", both of which promise to bring public interest and funding to the critically threatened Ozark chinkapin tree. Other people and institutions also seem to be finally jumping on the bandwagon to save this tree. Realistically, we know that resurrecting the Ozark chinkapin will be very challenging and costly, and that we may very well fail. But we are pleased to be taking this simple but major first step in establishing three diverse research orchards in Missouri, and are confident that this generous NNGA grant will inspire other individuals and institutions to provide additional and more substantial resources for this cause.

The Missouri Agricultural Experiment Station is the research arm of the
College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources
at the University of Missouri-Columbia

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