Tree Trip To Mount Magazine Arkansas

Ozark Chinquapin making a Comeback on Mount Magazine




2022 Tree Trip to Mount Magazine in Arkansas

by Leslie Bost Carter

published July 2022

My interest in Mount Magazine began several years ago after reading botanist Earnest J. Palmer’s journals describing the plants on the mountain in the early 1920’s before the blight made its way to the Ozarks. Inspired by Thomas Nuttall’s 1819 book on his travels through the early Arkansas Territory, Palmer set out on his own journey to visit the same locations and describe in detail the plants and geology of the landscape nearly 100 years later. 

According to Palmer (1924), the slopes of Mount Magazine were characterized by species of white and red oak, sweet gum, hickories, and Ozark chinquapin.  Another account, recorded in the Journal of Forestry–published in 1907, says the chinquapin-chestnut (Ozark chinquapin) was a predominate tree on Mt. Magazines’ ridges and North slopes.

Its been nearly 100 years since Palmer wrote his paper, and the Ozark chinquapin remnants on the mountain today are mostly scattered groups of blighted stump sprouts and and dying trees.  By the early 1940’s the Asian chestnut blight, introduced to the eastern U.S. on imported chestnut trees, had reached the Ozarks causing the species to rapidly decline.  

Years of human development and blight have taken their toll on the trees, but the mountain remains an area of important ecological and botanical features. As I stood on Mount Magazine during my most recent tree trip to Arkansas, I thought about Palmer’s journals, and what it would take to bring the Ozark chinquapin back to its former glory on Arkansas’ most famous mountain. 

Tree Trip To Mount Magazine in Arkansas

The goal of my tree trip in June to Mount Magazine was to complete a blight screening study across several sites, pollinate trees, and meet with Mount Magazine’s Deputy District Ranger to formulate a plan for Ozark chinquapin management in the area. My guide during the trip was Daniel Hanshaw, a retired forestry technician with 35 years of experience and OCF Lifetime Member.

Earlier this spring Daniel helped the OCF establish a new restoration plot on Mt. Magazine and helps maintain the planting.   Daniel has been advocating for Ozark chinquapin on the mountain for many years; flagging and geo-tagging the location of trees across hundreds of acres, and removing leaf litter around young chinquapin to protect them from prescribed burns. He knows the woods very well and knows more about the location of Ozark chinquapin on the mountain than probably anyone else.

Daniel Hanshaw, OCF Lifetime Member and Volunteer

Leslie Bost Carter, OCF

Mount Magazine is the highest and largest mountain in Arkansas.  The mountain is a flat-topped, rising about 2000 feet above the surrounding valleys with its summit about 2800 feet above sea level. The sides of the mountain are steep, and the summit is bounded by a rim of bluffs. The very top of the mountain levels off to a flat tableland about 7 miles long and less than a mile wide. The mountain is owned by the US Forest Service as part of Ozark National Forest, Mount Magazine Ranger District. The top portion is leased to Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, Division of State Parks, as Mount Magazine State Park. 

Day 1

Pollinating Wild Trees 

Daniel and I pollinated 3 wild Ozark chinquapins on Mount Magazine using pollen from a pure blight resistant parent tree from the Ozark Chinquapin Foundation’s breeding program and pollen collected from a tree miles away on the mountain to keep some local genetics. “Dummy bags” with no pollen were placed on the trees to confirm successful cross pollination. 

Chestnut blight can prevent Ozark chinquapin from reaching sexual maturity to develop male and female flowers. The few flowering trees in the wild usually have low nut production because there isn’t much pollen available from another tree within close range.  The few seeds produced by trees in the wild are often eaten by animals before they can become the next generation of trees.  Manually breeding Ozark chinquapin is necessary to re-energize the forest with genetically improved seed.

Daniel Hanshaw attaching a zip tie to a pollination bag on a wild Ozark chinquapin 

Two white pollen bags can be seen on the flowers of a tree at the Mount Magazine site “Huckleberry

Day 2

Leaf Collection For Blight Testing

Daniel Hanshaw and I spent the day on the Mount Magazine Ranger District driving down forest service roads and hiking to remote locations where I collected leaves for testing. For each tree I planned to test, I detached several leaves from this year’s new growth that had fully expanded but were still soft, and after labeling them, I put them inside a cooler. I collected from trees of various ages and level of susceptibility to chestnut blight. Daniel helped me geotag the location of each individual tree. 

The next day Drew Davis (Forest Service Sr. Fire Fighter) took us to see trees in an area we had to access with an off-road vehicle and I was able to collect leaves from several of those trees. Each of the 6 areas I collected leaf samples from will become special management areas for Ozark Chinquapin restoration and genetic conservation.  Below are photos of some of the trees I chose to screen.

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Large, rough barked Ozark chinquapin 

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Daniel standing next to a small tree I collected leaves from

This healthy looking Ozark chinquapin is about 12 years old

I screened this seedling located near the former Arkansas state champion Ozark chinquapin that died a few years ago. I was curious to see if the trees near the old champion tree had any resistance 

Day 3

Meeting with Clarke Reames and US Forest Service, Mount Magazine Ranger District

We’re grateful for the US Forest Service and other land management agencies partnering with us to save the tree and help us reach goals for range-wide restoration on public lands. Timber management practices, prescribed burning, and herbicide application impact remnant populations of Ozark chinquapin, but developing a management plan offers a solution to these concerns.

Timber is frequently harvested in this area.  Before a timber sale the unit is surveyed to identify sensitive species like Ozark chinquapin so they can be flagged and protected from being cut down or damaged. The problem is that Ozark chinquapin are easily misidentified! Even the most qualified person can mistake an Ozark chinquapin for another kind of tree unless they’re familiar with the species.  Ozark chinquapin are often cut, sprayed, and killed during timber harvests because they’re misidentified on the field.

This Ozark chinquapin is at risk of being cut and sprayed because it could be mistaken for a maple or oak 

Prescribed burns are done on Mount Magazine to help mitigate the impact of a possible wildfire and improve wildlife habitats. Ozark chinquapin can tolerate fire when they’re well established, but younger trees with smooth thin bark are top-killed, and re-sprout. Daniel showed me several examples of fire damaged trees during my trip (figure A). Stump sprouts are killed by fire and if it burns hot enough the tree dies and doesn’t re-sprout again.  About 90% of the remnant trees here are in the form of blighted stump sprouts so most of the trees would experience a setback from a fire event. 

Figure A.   This Ozark chinquapin was killed during a prescribed burn this spring. The tree re-sprouted but its been set back by 7 years.

Daniel has been monitoring the trees on the Mt. Magazine Ranger District for many years and observed that small Ozark chinquapin and seedling establishment is negatively impacted by prescribed burns; and fire treatments put the trees in a repeated cycle of “starting over”. We want to encourage natural regeneration on sites where Restoration Plantings with improved genetic resistance are located. We also want to conserve surviving populations in areas where they’re more frequent. 

The Meeting 

On the third day of my trip, I traveled to the forest service office in Paris Arkansas to meet with Mount Magazine Deputy District Ranger and forest service biologist Clark Reames, to discuss a plan for managing Ozark chinquapin on Mount Magazine. Clark was instrumental in helping the OCF get a formal agreement with the US Forest Service to partner together to restore the Ozark chinquapin tree. The meeting with Clark was also attended by wildlife biologist Jeremy Everitts, Senior Fire fighter Drew Davis, Forest Service Rep. Dylan Farnam, Engine Captain Chad Lunsford and Daniel Hanshaw. 

The Plan

From the meeting we came up with a strategy to manage and monitor specific sites on the Mount Magazine Ranger District. A forestry application called Avenza will allow the OCF and Forest Service to share information about the location of trees and map certain areas (acres of land) to exclude from potential timber sales and prescribed burns on Mount Magazine. Six target areas designated for Ozark chinquapin conservation and restoration activities will be mapped using the app. The forest service will help the OCF manage restoration zones by opening up the canopy around existing Ozark chinquapin to encourage flowering and fruiting.  To protect Ozark chinquapin from direct herbicide application, stems will be individually flagged or marked by qualified personnel. The Ozark chinquapin management plan we came up with will be included in the updated Forest Management Plan for the district.

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Trees like this one will be protected from prescribed burns, herbicide application, and from being cut during a timber harvest through our new management plan. 

Blight Testing Ozark chinquapin on the Mount Magazine Ranger District

Planting trees with improved genetic resistance to blight is part of the OCF’s recovery strategy but we still want to conserve existing trees whose genetics represent key diversity and local adaptions specific to the area we target to restore. Seed stock developed for Mount Magazine will be made by crossing the best trees from the area. Additional seed stock will combine local genetics with the best parent trees from across the range to diversify the number of unique sources of resistance to avoid a bottleneck effect. 

I designed a small pilot study to screen remnant trees currently growing on 6 sites across Mount Magazine Ranger District that will be set aside for targeted conservation and restoration work. The goal of the research was to confirm blight tolerance of symptom free trees identified on the field, get an idea of what kind host resistance the wild trees have, and to see if  susceptibility differs between groups of trees at the six locations on Mount Magazine. At least one tree from each location was tested and at most locations, multiple trees were screened. 

Oxalic Acid Leaf Disc Assay

The fungal pathogen responsible for the blight, Cryphonectria parasitica, secretes oxalic acid (oxalate) that kills healthy tissue and forms cankers on the bark of infected Ozark chinquapin trees. Oxalic acid assays can be used to rapidly screen for relative resistance based on the percent of living tissue remaining on leaf discs soaked in oxalic acid for a period of time.  Because the leaf discs are uniform in size, living tissue can be quantified easily with image analysis software. This assay requires us to simply expose leaf tissue directly to oxalate and observe their tolerance.

Blight Testing.  Leaf discs soaking in 50 mM oxalic acid solution. The necrotic tissue is brown and the green leaf tissue is alive. 

Chestnut blight is not a leaf disease, but a tree’s leaf tissue will have a reaction to oxalic acid exposure that correlates with the plant’s immune response and ability to detoxify oxalic acid (a mechanism apparently employed by trees with tolerance to chestnut blight).  Leaf assay results from experiments where detached leaves were inoculated with agar plugs of blight correlate well with oxalic acid leaf disc assays (Blight Resistance Testing 2019, 2021, and 2022, Leslie Bost Carter, OCF) . This technique for blight screening is especially useful on my trip to Arkansas considering its simplicity.

Methods

Several leaves from this year’s new growth were detached from each individual tree selected for screening, 21 total (As detailed in the section about the second day of my trip).  Leaves were also collected from 2 cultivated Chinese chestnut trees. The leaves were labeled, bagged, and placed in a cooler.  All of the leaves were washed in 2 baths of distilled water and mild detergent, then gently blotted dry before the experiment. Leaf samples from 3 of the 21 trees I collected were damaged in transit and I excluded them from the study.

A sterile cork borer was used to punch out 10-12 leaf discs per sample set, then immediately placed into a petri dish containing a 50 mM oxalic acid solution. After soaking for 22 hours, photographs of the leaf discs were uploaded to plant disease quantification software (Assess 2.0) and analyzed to calculate the exact percent of healthy tissue on each leaf disc (Figure a). The average percent of living tissue remaining on the discs was recorded for each tree and plotted on a bar graph. Also, results for four of the six sites, were grouped and plotted on bar graphs for comparison. 

Figure A.  Screenshot of Assess 2.0 image analysis software that calculates the percent of living tissue on the leaf discs using color thresholds to discriminate necrotic dead tissue (brown) from living tissue (green). 

Blight Testing Results

The results of the leaf assay are presented in 2 graphs; the first (fig 1) displays the relative blight resistance of all the trees screened and the second graph (fig 2) displays the same information except it’s organized according to location on the the Mount Magazine Ranger District.  

Leaf Assay Results 

Figure 1 .  Blight Testing Results. The graph displays the mean percent of living tissue for every trees screened on Mt Magazine. Trees with the greatest amount of living tissue remaining are most resistant to blight. The asterisk indicate trees with superior levels of blight tolerance and will be used as parent trees for breeding.

Figure 2.  Leaf Assay (Blight Testing) Results Displayed By Location On The Mountain.  I screened trees from 6 different sites on Mt Magazine Ranger District, and 4 of those sites (Greenbench, Northpointer, Major McLean, and Maggie) are displayed for comparison above. Sites on the mountain where less than 2 trees were tested per location are not shown, but you can find those trees represented in the combined graph in figure 1.

The experiment results help characterize the disease susceptibility of the Ozark chinquapin in the area and we can see (fig 1) that over 1/3 of the wild trees I screened had no living tissue after soaking in oxalic acid for 22 hours and are highly susceptible to the blight. The rest of the trees were moderately susceptible and a few had some natural genetic resistance.  Keep in mind the superior trees I screened (ones that tested the best) were selected from wild populations 0f hundreds and hundreds of trees on the mountain.  The three trees with asterisks (fig 1) will be used as parent trees to develop seed with improved resistance by crossing them together and with other pure resistant Ozark chinquapin parent trees in the OCF’s breeding program.  

When we look at the disease susceptibility of  the trees according their location (fig 2), the site we call “Northpointer” is unique because most of the trees there had at least some level of moderate tolerance to blight. The second most blight tolerant tree in the study was located in this group.  Lingering remnant trees in this area could be at a slightly lower risk of complete elimination by the blight or it could be a group of more genetically robust trees.  On the other hand, the site “Maggie” (where the former Arkansas state champion Ozark chinquapin was located) tested poorly and the small trees and little seedlings growing there today will most likely be eliminated by the blight within the next 15 years.  The good news is we can recharge this area with blight resistant Ozark chinquapin and take advantage of the openings in the canopy created by dead chinquapin and replace them with a living tree. 

The Ozark chinquapin tree has an important ecological role as a food source for wildlife and when the trees started disappearing they were replaced by oaks and other species that don’t provide the same nutritional value and consistency.  The work we’re doing to return Ozark chinquapin on Mount Magazine is a conservation triumph, not just for the tree, but for the various animals and insects who benefit from them.

End of the trip

After 3 days of research and field work it was time for me to make my way back home to St. Louis Missouri. But before leaving Arkansas I was lucky enough to get to meet with some Forest Service employees from the Ranger District near Mount Magazine’s district.  Chad Lunsford (FS Engine Captain) put me in contact with a few of the guys there that could take me to see some trees. 

Day 4

Visit to Pleasant Hill Ranger District, Ozark National Forest

On the 4th day of my trip to Arkansas I left Mount Magazine and made my way to the Forest Service office in Clarksville Arkansas to meet with Jeff Highfill, the Timber Sale Administrator for the Pleasant Hill Ranger District on Ozark National Forest.  Jeff took me four miles north of the mountain community of Oark to show me several wild Ozark chinquapin trees. The forest in this area is heavily blighted but there are a few flowering chinquapins. It appeared both of the large flowering trees had succumbed to the chestnut blight this spring.

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Pleasant Hill Ranger District, Arkansas.  This Ozark chinquapin was producing burrs last year but it died from the blight this spring.

100 years ago the forest floor in this area would have been covered in burrs. I found this one under one of the large blighted trees that died this year.

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(Timber Sale Administrator on Pleasant Hill Ranger District, US Forest Service) Jeff Highfill standing next to the second fruiting Ozark chinquapin tree that died this year from the blight.

chestnut blight canker

The OCF would like to develop an Ozark chinquapin management plan for the Pleasant Hill Ranger District similar to the one we have for the Mount Magazine RD. We hope to meet with them again sometime within the next year.

Opportunity to help

The Ozark Chinquapin Foundation and our partners are making progress to recover the iconic tree through restoration and conservation efforts like the one we’re doing on Mount Magazine in Arkansas. If you would like to help us you can become an Annual Member and you’ll be placed on the list to receive seed with improved blight resistance. Or you can support range-wide restoration efforts by making a tax deductible donation.  

To contact me: lesliebost@yahoo.com