The Franklinia Trees Are Blooming this Week!
Fun Fact: William Bartram developed a great working relationship with the Seminole Indians while in Florida on his journeys. They nicknamed William “Puc Puggy” – translating to “Flower Hunter”. Would any of you identify as modern day "Puc Puggy" or flower hunter?
Do you know the story of this tree?
Not only does it grace us with fragrant blooms in late-summer when most trees have finished blooming, but it has a special story of how naturalists in the 1700's saved a mysterious species that eventually became extinct in the wild.
In 1765 Father-son pioneer naturalists, John and William Bartram discovered a few acres along the Alatamaha River in southeastern Georgia supporting a species of tree never catalogued before. Seed was collected and brought back to Philadelphia where it was propagated and established in the Bartram’s garden. John died before seeing the cultivated specimen bloom, but his son honored John’s dear friend, Benjamin Franklin, by naming the tree Franklinia alatamaha in his honor. Franklinia trees have been extinct in the wild since 1803 when the last remaining trees were seen at the site of Bartram’s discovery. All Franklinia trees cultivated today are descended from the seeds collected by the Bartrams.
The origin and demise of the wild Franklinia tree is unknown and many theories can be found here: https://daily.jstor.org/americas-mysterious-lost-tree/
In addition to the interesting history, the Franklinia tree is a stunning specimen to grow. The small tree reaches 15-20 feet in height, prefers cooler climates (z 5-8), full sun to part shade, and well-draining, rich, acidic soil. The white blooms have a camellia-like fragrance, which isn’t surprising since it is in the tea family (Theaceae). The blooms can carry into the fall and contrast stunningly against the red-orange fall foliage.
We will be selling Franklinia trees during our fall sale! They are grown by a local nursery in Candler. Franklinia trees have a reputation for being a little difficult to grow so here are some tips for when planting them in our region:
Amend clay soil with organic matter and sand
Plant in part shade
When planting, do not bury the root ball too deep. The top of the root ball should be level if not an inch above ground level.
When applying mulch, do not mulch up to the trunk.
Want more information about the Bartrams and their discoveries? Check out the book The Natures of John and William Bartram by Thomas P. Slaughter. You can also see the two largest Franklinia tree specimens at Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum.