By Hudson Heidger, Alex Wolf and Dylan Schwartz
Ryan Russell, the horticulturist for Columbia’s Parks and Recreation Department, is on a mission to bring the endangered quercus acerifolia — maple-leaf oaks — to Columbia.
“Intrigued by the rarity of this species, driven by the desire to help conserve it, and confident that it would survive in my area, I decided to grow a grove of maple-leaf oaks,” Russell wrote in a February 2020 article in the International Oak Society journal.
Maple-leaf oaks are known to exist at only four sites in Arkansas: two in the Ouachita National Forest, one in Mount Magazine State Park and one on private property. In his article, Russell described the difficult climb he made to reach a grove of the trees.
“It was a steep and arduous hike and at times I thought my knee would hit my chest with each step,” Russell wrote of his mile-long hike to the first site. “The maple-leaf oaks here are growing in a narrow band along an exposed ridge top just over 1,600 ft elevation with around 30 individuals. I left that site with multiple holes in my pants and bloody legs and hands.”
Russell intends to establish a grove of maple-leaf oaks at Stephens Lake Park, which was awarded a level II arboretum accreditation in 2017 by the ArbNet Arboretum Accreditation Program and the Morton Arboretum. Russell, part of the Global Conservation Consortium for Oak and a plant propagator, specializes in growing trees from grafts.