Franklin Tree (Franklinia alatamaha)
John Bartram and his son William discovered the Franklin tree growing along the banks of Georgia's Altamaha River near Darien, in McIntosh County, in 1765. In his book Travels, William Bartram describes it as a beautiful shrub that appeared to be related to Gordonia lasianthus (loblolly bay), but with larger and more fragrant flowers. They named the tree in honor of their friend Benjamin Franklin and the river beside which they had found it (the species name, alatamaha, reflects the Bartrams' variant spelling of Altamaha).
William Bartram again saw the tree in the 1770s and noted that the only spot where he had seen it in all
The Franklinia is a deciduous small tree or large shrub growing fifteen to twenty feet high and ten to fifteen feet wide, with elongated, dark green leaves that turn red, orange, or pink in the fall. Its most striking feature is its showy two- to three-inch snow-white flowers, with clusters of golden yellow stamens in the centers. The tree flowers from late summer until frost.
Today efforts are being made to restore the tree to the wild by planting specimens near the site where they were originally discovered.
In 1969 a set of four U.S. postal stamps was issued, each bearing a plant associated with one of the four regions of the country. Franklinia was chosen to represent the South.
William Bartram, The Travels of William Bartram, ed. Francis Harper (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1998).
Joseph Ewan and Nesta Ewan, "John Lyon, Nurseryman and Plant Hunter, and His Journal 1799-1814," Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 53, no. 2 (1963): 5.
"Georgia's Mystery Tree," Georgia Forestry 37, no. 4 (1984): 6, 14.
Marie B. Mellinger, "Looking for the Lost Franklinia," American Horticultural Magazine 48, no. 1 (1969): 40-41.
Richard Schneider, " Franklinia alatamaha," American Nurseryman 167, no. 2 (1988): 146.
Scott A. Merkle, University of Georgia
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