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Expert to speak on efforts to save the Ozark Chinquapin

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Expert to speak on efforts to save the Ozark Chinquapin

Research plots like the one pictured above are home to hundreds of chinquapin that are under the care of the Ozark Chinquapin Foundation.

Special speaker Steve Bost will be discussing "Saving the Chinquapin" at the East Ozarks Audubon Society meeting taking place Tuesday at the Farmington Public Library, 101 N. A Street.

A social time begins at 6:30 p.m., with the program starting at 7 p.m. This event is free and open to the public.

What is an Ozark Chinquapin?

It's a forgotten tree that is a member of the chestnut family. In fact, it's sometimes called an Ozark chestnut. In the 1800s and beyond, the Chinquapin provided lumber for barns, furniture, railroad ties and fence posts. Delicious nuts or “chinkapins” were stuffed into pockets of children on their way to school, however, this once dominant species of the Ozark highlands all but disappeared in the 1950s and '60s.

One man has made it his mission to save the tree — Steve Bost who seeks to restore the tree to its original range by establishing a viable, blight-resistant seed base through manual cross-pollination. He founded the Ozark Chinquapin Foundation in 2007. Bost and hundreds of volunteers have located and collected nuts from 45 rare mature trees in hopes of protecting their genetic diversity

Ozark Chinquapin has been on the verge of extinction due to a fungus, also known as chestnut blight. Suffering one of the greatest species die-offs in modern history, this once magnificent tree — growing up to 65-feet in height and 3-feet in diameter — has been reduced to little more than brushy shrubs with root suckers that resprout after the above-ground portion dies.

Although very few seeds are produced, the Ozark Chinquapin is more genetically diverse than any other North American chestnut species. Some of the remaining large trees have proven to have some resistance to the blight. A total of 116 test plots have been set up to grow trees that will hopefully be resistant.

Bost's daughter, Leslie, who is with the Missouri Botanical Garden, tests these young trees for blight resistance. By injecting a single leaf with the fungus, in just five days it can be determined if the tree has a chance of survival. Some test-plot trees are proving to be genetically resistant, even more so than the Chinese chestnut, which is not susceptible to the blight. Bost’s methods are working.

Still, the future of the Ozark Chinquapin is uncertain, but one thing is for sure — there is hope. Perhaps one day the children of today's children will be filling their pockets with delicious Chinquapins, just as their ancestors did.

For more information, contact Ann Blanchfield of the East Ozarks Audubon Society at 573-705-8880 or visit the Ozark Chinquapin Foundation online at https://ozarkchinquapinmembership.org/

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