Steve Bost will show you some Ozark chinquapin trees. “But I’d have to blindfold you before you get in the car,” he jokes. Deep in the rolling southeast Missouri Ozarks , Bost gets out of his car at the end of a remote dirt road. Somewhere nearby, carefully hidden from the public, is the Ozark chinquapin tree, once a keystone Ozark forest species. Decimated by chestnut blight in the mid-1900s, any viable trees were thought to be long gone—that is, until Bost found a few healthy hangers-on in the 2000s. Now he’s trying to bring the tree back from the edge of blight in a non-traditional way. And he’s succeeding. Bost wipes his face with spicebush leaves, a natural repellent for a cloud of gnats. A short hike through the woods takes us to a rocky, sunbaked slope ringed by drought-killed trees. On this ridgetop is a test plot that Bost began nine years ago, home to 117 baby and adolescent Ozark chinquapins, some up to 30 feet tall, half the height of a full-grown tree. It’s Bost’s greatest secret and triumph: the genetic future of the Ozark chinquapin. Ozark chinquapin leaves and burrs Photograph by Brad Spudich Not […]

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