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Open house at George O. White

Photo by Christy Porter
By Shari Harris, Co-Publisher
and Christy Porter, Managing Editor

The George O. White State Forest Nursery hosted an open house and tours on Sat., April 6. The one hour tours educated attendees about native plants and trees, and allowed an opportunity to chat with conservation experts, meet Smokey Bear, and see a full-scale sawmill demonstration. A fishing clinic was available at the fishing ponds located on the property. Free hot dogs, chips and cookies were served, and Smokey Bear was present to meet the kids. 

In April, 1934, the U.S. Forest Service located a nursery northwest of Licking, in order to grow native short leaf pine seedlings for the reforestation process they had planned for Missouri. Years of misuse had left the rocky soil of the Ozarks barren. But short leaf pine would grow in the poor soil and help restore the soil, allowing hardwoods to return later.

Initially, the nursery had 40 acres of land, with 6 planting blocks and 15 acres of planting beds, which grew 15 million short leaf pine seedlings every year. The Forest Service ran the nursery with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA).
Photo by Christy Porter Workers demonstrate lifting
seedlings at George O. White State Forest Nursery.

With the onset of World War II, many of the CCC and WPA workers became soldiers and funding wasn’t available to continue operating the nursery, so the Forest Service ceased the operation. After the war, attempts to resume operations were not successful due to minimal funds. George O. White worked for the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), and was able to arrange a deal with the Forest Service. The Forest Service would retain ownership of the land and the buildings, while the MDC took over operation of the nursery. The nursery was operated in this fashion for 28 years, until July of 1976 when the MDC took full ownership of the land, buildings, and operations.

Now the nursery grows 65 species of trees and shrubs in 22 planting blocks, with 50 acres of planting beds, about half of which are planted each year. It grows about 3.5 million seedlings every year, mostly of species native to Missouri. A few species are not native but are not aggressive to spread. The nursery acknowledges their mistakes of the past, when the non-native multi-floral rose was raised and distributed by the nursery and now grows rampant in Missouri.

The employees of the nursery take pride in their reputation of quality seedlings. Every seedling is looked at and is touched by human hands before it is certified as quality. This is not an automated process. The seedling has to have a good root system and good stem, and usually must be 12 inches or taller. Seedlings that don’t meet quality standards aren’t wasted; they go to the compost pile and become food for future seedlings.

Photo by Christy Porter Quality checks are an important
part of the process with the seedlings.
Seedlings are “lifted” when dormant, which is after the ground cools in the fall, but the lifting of seedlings is interrupted when the ground freezes. After passing inspection, the seedlings are stored in one of five bays that are kept at 34 to 35 degrees Fahrenheit to keep the seedlings dormant. The elderberry, however, is unable to be fooled, and detects the change to Spring even if stored in the cool bays. Another reason for keeping the bays cool is to keep mold growth down. The trees must be kept moist, which makes a fitting environment for mold to grow. White mold on the seedlings is not desirable but will not kill healthy parts of the tree, only feeding on dead parts of the tree. Green or dark mold is not desirable and will kill the seedlings. Workers watch the seedlings closely for any signs of mold, and if mold develops, they are quick to act to treat the bays. Depending on the species of seedlings, they can be stored for one week to as long as two months before being shipped.

The nursery has 10,500 customers per year, and ships 20,000 to 25,000 packages annually through UPS, delivered in 24-48 hours with no shipping charge to Missouri customers, or with shipping charge added for out-of-state customers who don’t pay sales tax. The nursery ships three million seedlings every year.

The tours Saturday were filled with local, in-state, and out-of-state visitors, eager to learn and experience the history of George O. White State Forest Nursery. Through the guided tours of the process of growing and harvesting seedlings, including viewing of antique and present day planting equipment, all visitors left with an appreciation for the care taken at the nursery to grow the seedlings that will become the forests of tomorrow.



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