One early summer morning I was working with a volunteer in the Main Display Garden here at the Arboretum, and she asked to me, “Do you know about the Franklin Trees?” I did not, and she proceeded to tell me the interesting story behind these fantastic, exclusive trees…
John Bartram, early Anglo-American colonial botanist, horticulturist, and explorer, along with his son, William, were exploring the southeastern part of the then British colony of Georgia. They noticed an interesting tree growing along the banks of the Altamaha River. In 1765 he made note of this tree in his journal. In 1773 William returned to the area in Georgia to collect seeds. He successfully propagated some of the seeds in his father’s Philadelphia garden. The tree has never been observed growing in any other place than along the Altamaha River.
Within 50 years, the tree was extinct in the wild. There are theories, but no one really knows the cause of extinction. All living Franklin trees—named for family friend Benjamin Franklin—are descended from the seeds Bartram collected.
I checked with Margeaux Apple, our plant recorder, as to the exact location of all our Franklinia. Four of them are located at the south end of the Display Garden, SE of the Pennington Bed entrance to the Wildflower Garden. Three were planted in 2005 and one, back in 1994. According to Margeaux’s records they range in size from 10 -15’. There is one specimen at CBG, nestled into the Woodland Garden along the main path. In addition to those, there are two specimens, accessioned in 1971 at our Leach Research Station.
After hearing the story from our volunteer and doing a bit of reading I decided to photographically follow Franklinia for a few months. I think you’ll agree from these images it’s a beautiful little tree. And the flowers smell good! How special to have in our collections a tree that no longer exists in the wild!