Green Horizons Newsletter - AgEBB

Green Horizons

Volume 11, Number 1
Winter 2007

Initiative Launched to Restore Imperiled Ozark Chinquapin Species

Once an abundant and important source of lumber, nuts and wildlife habitat, the Ozark chinquapin species has been reduced to small, shrubby trees (mostly root-suckers) that produce few, if any, seeds. This article explains a new initiative to save the imperiled and valuable tree, a project funded by a grant from the Northern Nut Growers Association.

By Andrew L. Thomas, Research Assistant Professor, University of Missouri
Southwest Center; Patrick L. Byers, Fruit Grower Advisor, Missouri State University;
and Skip Mourglia, USDA-NRCS forester.

Reprinted with permission from the University of Missouri Southwest Center "Ruminations" newsletter, Vol. 12, No. 4, Oct. - Dec. 2006.

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.

Now considered an "imperiled" species, the once abundant Ozark chinquapin is the focus of a restoration initiative funded by the Northern Nut Growers Association. Ozark chinquapin leaves are sharp and coarsely toothed; dark green on top and whitish underneath. They are 5-9 inches long. Burs are often in grape-like clusters, with only one small, pointed nut per bur.

But is it chinquapin or chinkapin?
Either spelling is considered correct.

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.

Ozark chinquapin nuts are comparable in size to native Missouri hazelnuts and are crackable with a handheld nutcracker (or even your teeth.) Project researcher Skip Mourglia has allowed herself to taste only 2 or 3 nuts, and describes the taste as delicious; similar to a "pecan dipped in honey."

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.

What’s happening now?
A key purpose of the research grant awarded by NNGA to the Southwest Missouri RC & D, the University of Missouri (MU) and Missouri State University (MSU) is to address Ozark chinquapin propagation. Using direct seeding methods and RRM® container tree stock when possible, researchers are seeking volunteers to establish experimental orchards of Ozark chinquapin. While there are several Ozark chinquapins in forests today, they are small understory shrubs or small trees and do not live long enough, nor have the proper light conditions, to result in successful fruiting and nut production.

In 2005, Skip Mourglia, USDA-NRCS forester with Southwest Missouri Resource Conservation and Development in Republic, Mo., collected two sources of nuts and gave them to Wayne Lovelace of Forrest Keeling Nursery, Elsberry, Mo., to grow. Nuts came from trees that were blight free and over 15 years old. Lovelace and Mourglia donated the surviving RPM trees to the initiative. This research marks the first attempt to address the Root Production Method (RPM) process for this species. Forrest Keeling Nursery of Elsberry, Mo., is the originator of this highly successful method, in which trees are grown in a series of containers. The roots are air pruned and a mass of feeder roots develops - resulting in outstanding plant survivability and growth rate.

Since the NNGA grant that initiated the chinquapin project, researchers have gathered enough chinquapin nuts to start 60 seedlings in three Ozark chinquapin nurseries - located at the University of Missouri’s Southwest Center near Mount Vernon, the Missouri State University Fruit Experiment Station at Mountain Grove and at Mourglia’s Barry County tree farm. In 2008, experts from MU and MSU will graft Ozark chinquapin onto Chinese chestnut rootstock to test grafting compatibility. (Fifty Chinese chestnut seedlings were donated by the University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry). Mourglia’s experimental chinquapin orchard, located in an Ozark forest where blight exists, will serve as a source for additional research seed. Methods to protect direct seeded trees will be tracked (especially to determine if any are bear-proof)**. Mourglia reports that Ozark chinquapins are either picked by animals from the bur at the base of the tree, or the naked nuts are collected near the base of the tree.

**Note: The Ozark region of Missouri is home to black bears, and residents recall that black bears loved Ozark chinquapins when the sweet nuts were numerous. In eastern states, bears are known to dig up direct seeded American chestnuts.

Planting of two RPM chinquapin trees at the MDC Springfield Nature Center was set for Dec. 2nd, but will be rescheduled due to snow and ice. The Center is hosting a display of Ozark chinquapin nuts, burs, and carcasses for the next year. Project researchers stress that all available chinquapin nuts are needed for species rescue and restoration; eventually, upon species restoration, markets for chinquapins may have excellent potential due to their delicious flavor.

A commonly confused species
According to the Ozark Chinquapin Foundation, Ozark chinquapin trees might be mistaken for chinkapin oak (Quercus muhlenbergii). Unlike Ozark chinquapin, the chinkapin oak has bluish-green leaves, the teeth on the leaves are rounded, buds are clustered at the apex of the stem, and they have a distinct bowlshaped cap on the acorn nut - a key indicator the tree is not an Ozark chinquapin. The bark on the chinkapin oak is also flat, not deeply furrowed like the bark on mature Ozark chinquapin trees.

Another tree Ozark chinquapin might be mistaken for is the Allegheny chinquapin (Castanea pumila) which usually has smaller leaves of less than 6 inches, shallower teeth, and a smaller, spiny seedpod that is usually less than 1 inch in diameter. Nut size is usually around 1/2 inch. Allegheny chinquapin will grow in sandy lowland conditions, often near waters edge, and sometimes occur in thickets. They usually do not attain heights over 30 feet, and tree diameters are usually less than 4-5 inches. Allegheny chinquapins are rare in the Ozark Plateau.

Some foresters have mistaken the Ozark chinquapin for Chinese chestnut, (Castanea mollissima), a non-native chestnut species that is blight-resistant and grows well in Missouri. The University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry is one of the nation’s leaders in orchard and market development for Chinese chestnut. The jagged-edge Chinese chestnut leaves resemble Ozark chinquapin leaves, but the spiny burs of Chinese chestnut contain up to 3 nuts, while Ozark chinquapin has only one nut in each bur. The burs of the chinquapin are much smaller than the larger-sized burs of the chestnut, averaging about 1 ½ inches in diameter. Chinese chestnut bur averages 3-4 inches in diameter.

How can you help?

According to Mourglia, "we first need nut collectors before we need growers." You can volunteer to become a trained collector, and learn how to direct seed the nuts to become a grower. Volunteer orchards are needed because, as Mourglia explains, limited genetic crossing occurs in the wild as many trees are not located near a cross-pollinator. Greater genetic crossing may one day produce the right combination of genes that will transfer blight resistance. By planting trees in volunteer orchards under high light conditions, earlier flowering (than flowering that typically occurs in shady, forested conditions) can be achieved. Mycorrhizal fungi will need to be added as an inoculant to crop and pasture areas that are utilized for new plantations.

To learn more, attend the Ozark Chinquapin Initiative educational meeting on Jan. 18, 2007, at the MDC Springfield Nature Center, 7-9 p.m. Presenters will explain what the species looks like, site and soil preferences and challenges with the restoration. For more information about the meeting, contact Skip Mourglia at (417) 732-6485, Mon-Fri.

Get involved with the Ozark Chinquapin Foundation. For information on becoming a member, visit; or email The Foundation’s mailing address is: Ozark Chinquapin Foundation, 135 Rolling Hills Dr., Poplar Bluff, MO., 63901.

The Ozark Chinquapin Foundation: Restoration Partner
The Ozark chinquapin Foundation is a non-profit organization working to restore the Ozark chinquapin to its native range. Seed is available to volunteers who want to help reestablish this tree to its native range.

According to the Foundation, the historic range of the Ozark chinquapin included approximately 40 percent of Southern Missouri (the area south of Missouri River), many regions of Arkansas that have some elevation, a portion of the eastern fourth of Oklahoma, and portions of northern Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Typically the trees grow on acidic rocky cherty soils, with non-swelling clays and are found with pine/oak/hickory. Hillsides and hill tops in the Ozarks are preferred growing sites. Interestingly, the term Ozark chinquapin does not appear in most early 1900s tree books. The trees were often lumped in with the Allegheny chinquapin. Tree book authors made specific comments that in Southern Missouri and Arkansas the trees reached heights up to 65 feet tall and 2-3 feet in diameter. The word "Ozark chinquapin" did not become commonly used until after the 1930s and 40s; before this they were considered incredibly large Allegheny chinquapins that grew in the Ozarks.

The Foundation has collected testimonials of those who fondly remember the abundant Ozark chinkapin tree:

"The Ozark chinquapin nuts were delicious and we waited for them to fall like you would wait on a crop of corn to ripen … they were that important. Up on the hilltop the nuts were so plentiful that we scooped them up with flat blade shovels and loaded them into the wagons to be used as livestock feed, to eat for ourselves, and to sell. Deer, bears, turkeys, squirrels, and a variety of other wildlife fattened up on the sweet crop of nuts that fell every year. But, starting in the 1950’s and 60’ all of the trees started dying off. Now they are all gone and no one has heard of them."- Quote from an 85 year old Missouri outdoorsman describing the trees before the chestnut blight reached the Ozark Mountains.

"The wood produced some beautiful furniture and musical instruments, even today things made from the chinquapin wood are highly prized. Ozark people were able to make a little money selling railroad ties made from chinquapin trees. Farmers used the tree for corner posts and fence posts because it was highly rot resistant. Even the empty burs were used for fertilizer."

Visit to learn more about the Foundation’s restoration efforts and this unique tree species. GH

Chinkapin oak leaves Chinkapin oak acorns
Chinkapin oak leaves and acorns.
Chinkapin oak leaves are oblong, 3 to 6 inches in length and 1-1/2 to 3 inches wide, coarsely and sharply toothed. They are thick and firm, light yellowgreen above to silvery white below. The acorn is broadly oval, chestnut brown in color and enclosed for one-half its length in the cup.
Allegheny chinquapin leaf Chinese chestnut leaf Ozark chinquapin leaf
Allegheny chinquapin leaf Chinese chestnut leaf Ozark chinquapin leaf

Allegheny chinquapin leaf: Smaller leaves of less than 6 inches, with shallower teeth and a smaller, spiny seedpod usually less than 1 inch in diameter.

Chinese chestnut leaf: Chinese chestnut leaves are oval-shaped with smaller teeth. The base of the leaf blade is rounded; leaf is waxy and thick-feeling.

Ozark chinquapin leaf: Ozark chinquapin leaves are sharp and coarsely toothed; dark green on top and whitish underneath. They are 5-9 inches long.

Ozark Chinquapin in the Media

Arkansas Democrat Gazette, 10/2/06 "Group hopes to repopulate Ozarks with chinquapins."

Spring.eld News-Leader, 12/2/06, "A new beginning for the imperiled Ozark chinquapin."

Region and State newspaper, 12/3/06, "Volunteers Setting Imperiled Tree on Comeback Trail."

Ruminations, the newsletter of the University of Missouri Southwest Research Center, "Ozark Chinkapin Project Initiated in Southwest Missouri." Vol. 12, No. 4. (Fall 2006)

Columbia Daily Tribune, 12/3/06, "Volunteers work to save tree."

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