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Arkansas Living August 2011 : Page18

*URXS:RUNVWR5HVWRUH 2]DUN&KLQTXDSLQ7UHH F by B UDDY G OUGH roads where bus drivers would stop as a special favor to the youngsters. The prized nuts regularly played a part in the once popular schoolyard guess-ing game of “hully gully,” which means, “how many?” With the children gathered in a circle, the lead player would hold up a handful of chinquapins and shout out “hully gully?” A right guess earned the nuts; a wrong guess meant paying up an equal number. The tone of the old-timers turned sadly nostalgic as they recalled watching the be-loved trees begin to die away in the 1950s and through the 1960s. The cause was a tree-killing blight that began infecting the American chestnuts in New England in the 1920s and spread down the Appalachian Mountains to leap the Mississippi River and begin killing off chinquapins in the Ozark and Ouachita mountains. Nearly 4 billion chestnut trees were killed by the blight. ond memories as-sociated with Ozark chinquapin trees came vividly to mind for the gathering of old coun-try boys, all of them octogenarians who grew up in the hills of Arkan-sas in the 1930s and 40s. In voices hoarse and gravelly, they spoke of a native species of chestnut re-vered in the fall for producing green, bris-tly burrs that hold brown nuts more “sweet and delicious” than any other nut-bearing tree in the forest. Children would go to school with their pockets full of these nuts gathered from “chinkapins” around their homesteads or from trees along country A keystone species The remembrances of the old-timers set the tone for the annual meeting of the Ozark Chinquapin Foundation (OCF), a conser-vation organization dedicated to preventing the extinction of chinquapins and restoring them to their native range. Held last spring at Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area near Rogers, the conference exemplifi ed the inter-est in chinquapin restoration with attendees representing the Ozark and Ouachita Na-tional Forests, the Arkansas Forestry Com-mission and the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, as well as others from state and national parks in Arkansas and Missouri. With OCF founder Steve Bost leading the program, experts on hand also included researchers from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and from as far away as Con-necticut. Along with photographs old and new, presentation after presentation high-lighted the former importance of chinqua-pins as a “keystone” species in the forests of the Ozarks and Ouachitas. Capable of reaching heights of 65 to 70 feet with trunks up to three feet in diameter, the chinquapins were not quite as large as the mightiest hardwoods, but had superior ad-vantages and attributes over the more com-mon acorn-bearing trees. Growing primarily on the rocky slopes of mountainsides, the chinquapins grew fast-er than the oaks, allowing them to quickly claim a place in the forest canopy and expo-sure to life-sustaining sunshine. In contrast to oaks that set their acorn buds in early spring when they crops could be wiped out by freezes, the chinquapins set their buds in May when freezes were long past. Con-sequently, the chinquapins were much more faithful in producing annual crops of nuts. AUGUST 2011 Children will have something to smile about with the revival of chinquapin trees. 18  , 585$/$5.$16$6/,9,1*

Group Works To Restore Ozark Chinquapin Tree

Buddy Gough

Fond memories associated with Ozark chinquapin trees came vividly to mind for the gathering of old country boys, all of them octogenarians who grew up in the hills of Arkansas in the 1930s and 40s.<br /> <br /> In voices hoarse and gravelly, they spoke of a native species of chestnut revered in the fall for producing green, bristly burrs that hold brown nuts more “sweet and delicious” than any other nut-bearing tree in the forest. Children would go to school with their pockets full of these nuts gathered from “chinkapins” around their homesteads or from trees along country Roads where bus drivers would stop as a special favor to the youngsters.<br /> <br /> The prized nuts regularly played a part in the once popular schoolyard guessing game of “hully gully,” which means, “how many?” With the children gathered in a circle, the lead player would hold up a handful of chinquapins and shout out “hully gully?” A right guess earned the nuts; a wrong guess meant paying up an equal number.<br /> <br /> The tone of the old-timers turned sadly nostalgic as they recalled watching the beloved trees begin to die away in the 1950s and through the 1960s. The cause was a tree-killing blight that began infecting the American chestnuts in New England in the 1920s and spread down the Appalachian Mountains to leap the Mississippi River and begin killing off chinquapins in the Ozark and Ouachita mountains. Nearly 4 billion chestnut trees were killed by the blight.<br /> <br /> A keystone species<br /> <br /> The remembrances of the old-timers set the tone for the annual meeting of the Ozark Chinquapin Foundation (OCF), a conservation organization dedicated to preventing the extinction of chinquapins and restoring them to their native range. Held last spring at Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area near Rogers, the conference exemplified the interest in chinquapin restoration with attendees representing the Ozark and Ouachita National Forests, the Arkansas Forestry Commission and the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, as well as others from state and national parks in Arkansas and Missouri.<br /> <br /> With OCF founder Steve Bost leading the program, experts on hand also included researchers from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and from as far away as Connecticut.Along with photographs old and new, presentation after presentation highlighted the former importance of chinquapins as a “keystone” species in the forests of the Ozarks and Ouachitas.<br /> <br /> Capable of reaching heights of 65 to 70 feet with trunks up to three feet in diameter, the chinquapins were not quite as large as the mightiest hardwoods, but had superior advantages and attributes over the more common acorn-bearing trees.<br /> <br /> Growing primarily on the rocky slopes of mountainsides, the chinquapins grew faster than the oaks, allowing them to quickly claim a place in the forest canopy and exposure to life-sustaining sunshine. In contrast to oaks that set their acorn buds in early spring when they crops could be wiped out by freezes, the chinquapins set their buds in May when freezes were long past. Consequently, the chinquapins were much more faithful in producing annual crops of nuts.<br /> <br /> As a result, the chinquapin crops were major mainstays for native wildlife, allowing deer, bears, turkeys, squirrels and a host of other species to fatten up for winter, resulting in an abundance of game that was a marvel to the early settlers. Arkansas, once known as the “Bear State,” owes much to the chinquapins.<br /> <br /> Besides providing a prized food source for wildlife and people alike, the wood of the chinquapins was also valuable timber resource.With the wood being highly resistant to rot, the trees were a top choice for fence posts and railroad ties. Evidence of the tree’s resistance to rot can still be seen today as many stumps and trunks of chinquapin trees Killed by the blight more than 50 years ago remain on the forest floor.<br /> <br /> The fine-grained and tan-colored wood was also excellent for making furniture and musical instruments. The wood, however, also had the characteristic of popping like firecrackers when burned. This sometimes led to occasions of mischief when practical jokers would slip a piece of the wood into a fireplace or campfire.<br /> <br /> In that regard, one of the old-timers related what may or may not have been a joke involving an elderly gentleman on his deathbed whose final request was to be buried in a chinquapin coffin. When asked why, he replied, “So I can go a’popping through hell.”<br /> <br /> Restoration efforts<br /> <br /> Although chinquapins could easily be distinguished by their green, spiny burrs produced in the fall, they are also distinctive for their large and narrow lance-shaped leaves with sharp points and serrated edges. This is how most of the remaining trees are identified nowadays because they exist as saplings Growing from the stumps and root systems of trees that died long ago. The shoots may eventually produce stumps of two inches in diameter and reach heights of 20 feet before they are once again killed by the persistent blight.<br /> <br /> Nevertheless, a few old producing chinquapins have survived in widely scattered locations.These are trees that, for some reason, have been immune to the blight or have been hardy enough to recover from the blight. The discovery of one of these hardy survivors was the inspiration for the formation of the OCF with the idea of using nuts from the surviving tree to propagate chinquapins immune to the blight and begin the effort of restoring the keystone species.<br /> <br /> As word of the effort spread, other survivors have been discovered in Arkansas and Missouri and in the hilly areas of northern Mississippi and Alabama to create additional seed sources for the restoration program.<br /> <br /> Participants in the restoration work have also increased. After a mature chinquapin was discovered on Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area, park staff has been actively involved in growing the trees. A similar effort is ongoing along the Buffalo National River and at Hot Springs National Park.<br /> <br /> Along with the growing interest, increasing numbers of private landowners have been contacting the OCF to seek seeds and learn when, where and how to plant them.<br /> <br /> If these efforts are successful, the return of the iconic trees will be a boon to the native wildlife of Arkansas and provide a new generation of youngsters with fond memories of enjoying the sweetest, most delicious nuts in the forests.<br /> <br /> More information about chinquapins can be found at www.ozarkchinquapin.com. •

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