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Once Thought Extinct, Ozark Chestnut Tree Sees Slow Revival

In the mid-1900s, the nearly 4 billion American Chestnut Trees in North America were almost wiped out by the chestnut blight fungus. A smaller tree, known as the Ozark Chinquapin, or Ozark Chestnut, was thought to have become extinct as a result of that blight. But it wasn’t, and now there’s an effort sprouting up to bring that tree back. KSMU’s Jennifer Moore reports.

On Friday afternoon, conservationists and researchers from a wide swath of states—including Tennessee, Missouri, and Arkansas—got together to talk about how to save the Ozark Chinquapin Tree, or Ozark Chestnut. Steven Bost sees it as his mission now.

“Years ago, I had a degree in history and science, and I thought I knew everything. And I met this gentleman, who turns 91 this year…telling me about this tree that used to be here in the Ozarks,” he says.

The tree, the older man told him, produced sweet nuts that were so plentiful you could scoop them up and load them into a wagon. Each year, the people would wait for the crop like they waited for the corn to grow. Bost, who was familiar with the American Chestnut, had never heard of the Ozark Chestnut.

“I was going to prove him wrong,” Bost recalls. But it turned out there were almost no American Chestnuts west of the Mississippi River, unless they had been transplanted.

So he set out trying to find whether any Ozark Chestnut trees had survived the Chestnut blight fungus.

“I was told I was wasting my time finding to find a tree,” Bost said. But based on science and history, he knew it was rare for any such disease to kill out 100 percent of any population.Finally, through research and networking, someone showed him his first Ozark Chestnut tree. It was in the Arkansas Ozarks. Then he began finding more, several in Missouri.

Soon, Bost was putting all of his energy into finding more. He created his own website to bring others in on the effort, and organized events like this one to raise awareness about the Ozark Chestnut tree, and to help it grow again.

Bost says this tree is like the “miracle tree,” because it can grow in dry, rocky conditions, and it produces a plentiful yield year after year. He believes it could become, once again, an economic benefit to the Ozarks, and a wonderful food for wildlife, too. He says his dream is to have the Ozark Chinuqapin, or Ozark Chestnut, so bountiful again one day, that locals are singing about roasting the nuts over an open fire.

You can visit Bost's website by clicking here.

For KSMU News, I’m Jennifer Moore.