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Not Your Netflix’s Ozark

Deep in the Missouri Ozarks is a man on a mission, which was seemingly impossible until the mid 2000’s. Steve Bost is a modern Indiana Jones who has spent countless hours searching for an extinct tree, the Ozark Chinquapin Tree.

Chinquapin seed pod
Credit: The Ozark Chinquapin Foundation

The mysterious Chinquapin tree was thought to have died out due to a blight in the mid 1900’s, but rumors swirled that if you were willing to take on the task of trekking the mountainous regions of the Ozarks you would possibly discover a few surviving trees.

Discover he did, as Bost took on the task of searching for, and rescuing, a once extinct species of trees. The naturalist, and President of the Ozark Chinquapin Foundation, has been able to grow at least 117 trees in a handful of plots that are generally unmapped for the curious wanderer. But it is not just resuscitating the species that Bost is concentrating on, but changing the game of forestry all together.

By using the genetics of the few trees that managed to survive the species wiping blight, Bost and his team have been able to crossbreed strains of three different chestnut trees in an effort to create one completely blight resistant strain. In a study the organization conducted in 2019 they were able to utilize the fungus which caused the original blight in order to test the resistance of a few samples. Results of the testing show that their years of hard work have managed to produce an almost blight resistant screening.

The historical natural range of the Ozark Chinquapin
Credit: The Ozark Chinquapin Foundation

Historically, the Ozark Chinquapin has nourished many of the wildlife lucky enough to come across the sweet chestnut. But it was not just the wildlife who benefited from this foliaged feeder. Native Americans indigenous to the Ozarks would grind the nut from the tree to create a flour for breads.

The genetics of the tree made it one of the most diverse strains of tree and when a blight moved down into the Ozarks it only took a decade to wipe most of the population.

While this may seem like just a tree, conservation efforts have brought this species back from the brink of extinction and have utilized science to crossbreed the genetics of the tree to create something truly remarkable. Mendel would surely be floored by Bost and his team’s aspirations to create the Superman of trees.

Learn more about about conservation of the Ozark Chinquapin Tree on The Ozark Chinquapin Foundation website.

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