Do you have a Franklin tree? No matter where you have it planted in the world, your tree is a descendant from the first seeds ever collected. Franklinia alatamaha was discovered by John Bartram and his son William in 1765 along the Altamaha River in Georgia, United States. Originally misspelled in the species as alatamaha instead of the river name Altamaha, Franklinia alatamaha is a flowering tree commonly called the Franklin tree. William noted that they never found the plant anywhere else but at the 2 or 3 acre plot where it was first discovered. Don’t go trekking through the woods looking for the original spot though; it is extinct in the wild, having disappeared in the early 1800s. Franklinia alatamaha has survived as a cultivated ornamental tree from seeds John and William collected and sent back to England, while also growing his own in his home town of Philadelphia.
William named the plant to a new genus, Franklinia, in honor of his father’s close friend Benjamin Franklin, a horticulturalist in his own right who took a strong interest in the plant. Originally thought to be a member of the genus Gordonia, Franklinia is thought to be closer in relation to the Asian genus Schima. Franklinia, a monotypic genus (meaning only one species), is a member of the tea family Theaceae.
A notoriously difficult tree to cultivate, the Franklin tree prefers sandy, high-acid soil, and does not do well with excessive moisture or compacted clay soil. The seed capsules take anywhere from 12-14 months to mature. The flowers are large, pure white with yellow, fragrant centers. The obovate leave’s (teardrop-shaped) petiole attaches at the tapering point, and turn bright orange-red in the fall. It will grow to the modest height of roughly twenty feet.
Our Franklin tree in the garden is now in bloom. The flowers will take this already unique plant to the next level. Swing by the nursery and have a look as we still have a few in stock for that perfect spot you’ve been saving. See a part of horticultural legacy 250 years in the making.