Park naturalist works to bring back rare native tree

Monday, May 7, 2007
Steve Bost planted a rare tree, an Ozark chinquapin, in front of the Conservation Campus Nature Center in Cape Girardeau County Park recently. (Diane L. Wilson)

Montauk State Park naturalist Steve Bost visited Cape County Park's Conservation Department to plant a rare tree, an Ozark chinquapin, on park property. Bost has been trying to save the tree believed to have only about 70 survivors scattered throughout four states, including Missouri.

When the first Chinese chestnut was imported to the United States in the late 19th century, it carried a fungus that caused a blight to 99 percent of American chestnuts and, to Bost's estimation, the same percentage of Ozark chinquapins.

Phil Helfrich, media specialist at the Missouri Conservation Department, said, "We hope this is the first of many chinquapins to make a reappearance in this neck of the woods. These trees were about to become history. Planting this tree here today is a step toward returning this species to Missouri where it belongs."

Sixty seeds

Two years' work includes spending Bost's own money to track down blight-resistant trees in Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Mississippi.

Bost researched the chinquapin's historical range and found a handful of trees he believes are resistant to the chestnut blight. Determination fueled Bost to sprout 60 seeds from these resistant trees that will be given to a dozen landowners -- including Missouri's largest private landowner, Pioneer Forest -- willing to provide test plots.

Strategies to save the tree include growing resistant trees, nursing blighted trees, nut grafting and helping the pollination process by shaking male pollen onto female flowers and then tying bags over the flowers.

Pioneer Forest is making test plots available near Current River, at campground where Bost met Harold Adams, 87, a fellow camper who recalled the chinquapin in its glory days.

"The nuts were so plentiful we scooped 'em up with blade shovels and loaded them into wagons. But in the '50s and '60s all of the trees started dying and now they are all gone," Adams said.

Interested individuals may visit Bost's Web site at www.ozarkchinquapin.com

Breeding resistance

The American Chestnut Foundation's Ozark Initiative is taking steps to breed resistance into the Ozark chinquapin by crossing it with the Chinese chestnut to create a blight-resistant hybrid.

Skip Mourglia, staff forester with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, owns and operates the Barry County Tree Farm where a Missouri state champion Ozark chinquapin resides. Mourglia has gathered its seeds and those from another healthy chinquapin and will give them to Forest Keeling Nursery for use in a growth-enhancing root development system.

Mourglia can be reached at (417) 732-6485.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: