Mission Impossible?

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Published on: Dec. 13, 2012

The best stories are centered around an impossible task—something everyone thinks can never be achieved— except for one person who refuses to give up. Those stories captivate our imaginations. But you needn’t look for the latest action movie or a best-selling novel to find a story like this.

Missouri’s “Mission Impossible” is to save two different trees with similar plights. The heroes of this tale are ordinary citizens who refuse to accept defeat.

A Tale of Two Trees

Two Missouri tree species are declining toward extinction, but there are some people who have vivid memories of their importance.

“The Ozark chinquapin nuts were delicious and we waited for them to fall like you would wait on a crop of corn to ripen—they were that important,” says 85-yearold Harold Adams of southeast Missouri.

“Up on the hilltop, the nuts were so plentiful that we scooped them up with flat-blade shovels and loaded them into the wagons to be used as livestock feed, to eat for ourselves, and to sell,” Adams says. The trees also benefited local wildlife.

“Deer, bears, turkeys, squirrels, and a variety of other wildlife fattened up on the sweet crop of nuts that fell every year,” he says.

Gerald Angel has similar memories of another tree in Reynolds County.

“I used to collect all the butternuts I wanted back then,” he says. “They were good, too. We cooked butternuts like we did walnuts.”

Memories like these are rare. Although chinquapin and butternut trees made lasting impressions on the minds of many Missourians during the past century, today there aren’t enough of the trees left to continue their legacy without individuals willing to fight to save them.

“Starting in the 1950s and 1960s, all of the trees started dying off,” Adams says. “Now they are all gone and no one has heard of them.”

The Butternut

Butternut lumber was historically used for fine wood products such as furniture, cabinets, wall panels, church altars, and stagecoach interiors. Also known as “white walnut,” the wood was valuable in the 18th and 19th centuries all over the eastern United States, but few modern loggers have even seen a butternut tree.

Butternut is a relative of the black walnut, but it’s easy to work and is much lighter. “The lumber is beautiful,” says Greg Hoss, retired manager of the George O. White Nursery in Licking. “It has the same grain and texture as black

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