Franklinia alatamaha, commonly called Franklin tree, typically grows as a single-trunk tree with a rounded crown or as a multi-stemmed shrub. As a single trunk tree, it can grow to 20’ tall or more, but is more often seen growing much shorter. Camellia-like, cup-shaped, 5-petaled, sweetly-fragrant, white flowers (to 3” diameter) bloom in late summer to early fall. Each flower sports a boss of egg-yolk yellow center stamens. Narrow, oblong-obovate, glossy dark green leaves (to 5” long) turn quality shades of orange, red and purple in autumn. John Bartram was appointed Royal Botanist for North America by King George III in 1765. In that same year, John Bartram and his son William discovered franklinia growing in a 2-3 acre tract along the banks of the Altamaha River in southeastern Georgia. Franklinia has never been observed growing in any other place than along the Altamaha River. In a return trip in 1773, William Bartram collected seed from this site and brought it back to the Bartram's garden in Philadelphia where the tree was successfully grown. This tree has been extinct in the wild since 1803. It has been perpetuated in cultivation (all plants derive from the seed collected by Bartram) not only because of its rarity but also because of its attractive flowers and foliage. The current genetic base of this plant is quite narrow in large part because all plants currently in existence in the world come from the materials collected by the Bartrams. Franklinia belongs to the tea family and is closely related to Stewartia and Gordonia (loblolly bay). It is not known why this tree disappeared in the wild. Land along the Altamaha River was cleared for cotton plantations leading to one theory that a cotton pathogen found in the soil (carried downstream through erosion) was the main cause of the extinction of the colony. Other extinction theories include decline from climate change, destruction by man, single colony of plants was not genetically diverse enough to withstand pathogens or changing conditions, or a local disaster (flood or fire). Specimen tree or large shrub valued for its late summer flowers, good fall color and interesting history. Franklinia deserves a prominent location in the landscape. It is also known as the Lost Franklinia. Hardy in zones 5-8.
Growing Instructions for the Franklin Tree
The seeds have a period of dormancy. They can be planted outdoors in the fall or winter for spring germination or they can be cold stratified to simulate winter conditions and to break their dormancy at any time of the year. 1. Soak the seeds in water for 24 hours. 2. Put the mixture in a ziplock bag. 3. Put the bag in the refrigerator and leave it there for 30 days. 4. The seeds like moist, well-drained soil. Prepare a mixture of half potting soil and half sand, perlite or vermiculite. Put the soil in a pot. 5. Sow the seeds on the soil. 6. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil about a couple of millimeters thick. 7. Water the soil so that it is moist but not wet. 8. When the seedlings are a few inches tall, they can be transplanted.