by Leslie Bost Carter, 2023
Updates on research at Mt. Magazine
OCF researcher Leslie Bost Carter returned to Logan County, Arkansas, to continue Ozark chinquapin research on Mt. Magazine. She discusses ongoing efforts to prepare sites set aside for targeted Ozark chinquapin restoration.
Retired forestry technician and lifetime OCF member Daniel Hanshaw and Leslie Carter examine burrs below a wild fruiting Ozark chinquapin on Mossback Ridge in Arkansas.
Restoring an Iconic Tree to Arkansas’ Most Iconic Mountain
Chestnut blight has destroyed millions of Ozark chinquapin trees throughout their natural range, where they used to be locally abundant and widespread. Ninety-five percent of surviving Ozark chinquapin today exist as blighted stump sprouts, with living shoots that die before they’re able to flower, make nuts, and reproduce. They are stuck in a cycle of dying and re-sprouting, and can survive this way for many years, unable to make a new generation of Ozark chinquapin offspring. Only about about 1-2% of surviving wild trees are flowering and fruiting. It’s vital for us to locate the rare fruiting/flowering trees within target restoration areas so we can cross-breed them to create offspring (seed stock) for planting in that area. The Ozark chinquapin trees in this part of the range are specially adapted for high winds, high elevation, and the micro-climate of the mountain, so it’s important to restore the area with local genetics so we capture this key diversity.
The last year I’ve done research at various sites on and around the mountain to determine the levels of blight tolerance/resistance of the flowering Ozark chinquapin we’ve found. Because there are so few fruiting and flowering trees, we can’t be very picky, but screening the trees allows me to identify which ones are potentially the most resistant and have the best genetics. This will help save time and effort by allowing us to prioritize individuals for breeding.
In addition to locating flowering trees, I survey each location for potential parent trees, which is what I call a symptom-free, mature Ozark chinquapin that could have some blight tolerance but lacks flowers due to over-shading by surrounding trees in the forest. This year I started experimentally screening those “potential parent trees” to see if they had any resistance to blight. My efforts were not in vain, one of those flowerless Ozark chinquapin showed superior blight tolerance when screened. This tree would have normally been overlooked for selection (to use for breeding). We can encourage flowering in a single year by removing a few shading overstory trees. My hope is that through this research we’ll be able to increase the number of parent trees for breeding regionally adapted seed stock for Mt. Magazine.
During my two-day trip, Daniel Hanshaw and I headed to top of the mountain plateau to visit two areas on a high summit called Mossback Ridge. I recorded gps coordinates of four flowering trees and several “potential parent trees” at these sites and will screen them in the spring. On Mossback Ridge we examined a large population of Ozark chinquapin on the north facing slope of the ridge, in a mesic oak-hickory forest, distributed vertically almost in a straight line. Usually populations are distributed laterally along a ridge so this was interesting to me. We started at the base of Mossback, and worked our way up to an elevation of around 2,700 feet, to a lone flowering Ozark chinquapin. The soil on the slope is moist and rich and a departure from the drier sites where I’m used to seeing Ozark chinquapin.
At the second site, located west of Bear Hollow on a north facing slope, I found a large 45 foot dead Ozark chinquapin that looks like it may have been killed when the blight invaded the Ozarks around the 40’s or 50’s. It may have taken the blight 15 years to take down this large tree and its been preserved here thanks to years of no fire in this particular spot. Daniel took me to two fruiting trees in the area and I noted a few additional symptom free trees. One of the fruiting trees here produces more than one nut per burr. This is rare but I’ve seen it before, there are 2 resistant parent trees at OCF research plots that produce more than one nut per burr and were confirmed pure Ozark chinquapin through DNA analysis. This site is of special conservation interest to us because the two fruiting trees are less than 190 yards apart.
Pictures from my trip: