By John Buckner
John Fleming was minding his own business that particular morning. As the owner of J. R. Fleming Forestry LLC, he’s a forest consultant that helps landowners manage their timber. That includes tree species inventories, determining stocking rates, setting up timber sales and establishing management objectives to meet the needs of the landowner’s interests and tax burden.
This particular day, he was cruising a wood lot out in the Missouri River hills near Morrison, getting an idea of the property’s boundaries because he had organized a timber sale for a landowner and wanted to make sure the property lines were well-marked.
That’s when something on the ground caught his eye under the shady tree canopy. He squinted, trying to focus on the objects, because there were more than one.
“I noticed burs on the ground and I knew there were only a couple things that have a fruit that looks like that,” he said.
The forester thinks this chestnut is probably an off-spring of the [original] tree that was planted, putting this tree’s current age around 80 to 120 years-old.
If this tree has survived this long without contracting the blight, does it have chestnut blight resistance?
John’s best guess is the tree is too isolated from another chestnut tree stand infected with the blight to have contracted the disease.
“I do plan to have it tested for resistance to the fungus,” he says. “There is still a question as to whether it is a true American Chestnut or an American chestnut – Ozark chinkapin (Castanea ozarkensis) cross.”
The Ozark chinkapin is a rare southern Mo. tree in the Chestnut Family and has more genetic diversity than the American chestnut, therefore seems to be more resistant to the blight. Originally thought extinct, around 45 Ozark chinkapin trees have been “discovered” since the early 2000s.
BY ROBERT LANGELLIER
The chinquapin was supposed to have been wiped out by blight. Now one determined Missouri naturalist is hand-pollinating trees in secret groves to bring it back.
STEVE BOST WILL show you some Ozark chinquapin trees. “But I’d have to blindfold you before you get in the car,” he jokes.
Deep in the rolling southeast Missouri Ozarks, Bost gets out of his car at the end of a remote dirt road. Somewhere nearby, carefully hidden from the public, is the Ozark chinquapin tree, once a keystone Ozark forest species. Decimated by chestnut blight in the mid-1900s, any viable trees were thought to be long gone—that is, until Bost found a few healthy hangers-on in the 2000s. Now he’s trying to bring the tree back from the edge of blight in a non-traditional way. And he’s succeeding.