Chinese chestnut blight has decimated North American members of the genus Castanea, which includes American chestnuts, Allegheny chinkapins, and Ozark chinquapins. The Missouri Botanical Garden’s Center for Conservation and Sustainable Development (CCSD) and Horticulture Division are working with the Ozark Chinquapin Foundation (OCF) on a project that will reveal how well individual Ozark chinquapin trees resist the Chinese chestnut blight.
Unlike American chestnut, large seed-producing trees of Ozark chinquapins still survive in the wild and are scattered throughout the Ozark and Ouachita mountains of Missouri and Arkansas. For years the OCF has been involved documenting, mapping, and monitoring these surviving trees in hope that some of them may have natural resistance to chestnut blight. With the goal of one day restoring blight resistant trees back into the wild, OCF has been involved in cross-pollinating and collecting seeds from these surviving trees. However, until recently, seedlings derived from cross-pollinations had to be grown-out for many years before they could be tested for blight resistance. Fortunately, scientists at SUNY College of Environmental Sciences and Forestry recently developed a new leaf assay technique that can rapidly assess blight resistance in recently germinated seeds.
“To put this cooperative project into perspective, our old method to test for blight resistance was to inoculate 500 six year-old Ozark chinquapin trees with the chestnut blight (Cryphonectria parasitica) and observe them for the next four years to see how they would respond,” explains Ozark Chinquapin Foundation President/Founder Steve Bost. “This 10-year project would have required clearing additional land to plant the trees, six years of care for them, four years of record keeping after inoculating the trees with the blight along with thousands of hours of work and dollars spent.”
Over a five-month period, the OCF and the Garden will grow dozens of Chinese and American chestnut seedlings at their greenhouse location under the watchful eye of Garden horticulture staff. The trees are necessary for comparative results with wild chinquapins. When all leaves are at the right stage of growth, OCF staff and volunteers will utilize modern lab equipment to prepare testing materials and for observation. Results from these leaf tests will help us decide which trees are more blight resistant and should be used for cross pollination work.
The OCF’s goal is to develop a 100%-pure Ozark Chinquapin that is blight resistant, and to distribute the seeds to everyone interested in helping.
A.J. Hendershott, Regional Supervisor, Missouri Department of Conservation; and Matthew Albrecht, Conservation Scientist, Center for Conservation and Sustainable Development