Glory's Garden

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Friday, August 17, 2012

Franklinia Tree

Do you know the fascinating history behind the Franlinia tree? WHAT! You've never heard of the Franklinia tree at all????

Well, then, sit a spell, hunny-bun. You're in for a treat!
Franklinia Tree

The Franklinia Tree was discovered by an unknown farmer and self-taught naturalist/botanist by the name of  John Bartram. If you suppose this lowly man is of no significance, think again. He had friends in high places, the least of which might have been none other than our beloved statesman Benjamin Franklin.


Bartram became renown for his passion for cataloging native plants in the New World and sending accounts of what he found, and even drawings, seeds, roots, cuttings and live saplings back to England. He supplied these native plant materials to many avid English plant collectors, including the Duke of Richmond, the Duke of Norfolk and Lord Petre and he was eventually appointed botanist to King George III.

Well, this good man, Bartram-- after his wife died and only after the growing season was done in the autumn-- took to scouring the woodlands and fields up and down the east coast from Pennsylvania to St. Augustine, Florida, with his son in search of...well, anything new and different and he found loads! He is credited with having found over 200 new species of plants and introducing them to European gardeners.

It was in Georgia, along the Altamaha River, that he first spotted these lovely small growing trees. They had striped gray bark, glossy, bright green leaves and sweet-scented, creamy white flowers with bright yellow centers.
Tommy holding a fallen Franklinia blossom
Bartram called these lovely trees Franklinia alatamaha, named after his dear friend Benjamin Franklin and he brought back seeds to propagate them for himself and for his friends. Benjamin supposedly cherished them and why wouldn't he? They're gorgeous!

 Alas, that was in 1773 and after 1803 the Franklinia tree was no longer found in the wild. HORRORS!

Do not despair just yet. That was not the end of the Franklinia tree.... obviously. I found these growing at Longwood Botanical garden right beside the Dupont house and we were thrilled! It was the first we ever saw them close up and personal. We had known the story about them, but had never seen them until we spotted them here a few years back. They are a new addition. YAY!

There were some of trees cared for by Bartram himself , Benjamin Franklin and others from which seeds and cuttings were gotten to continue the propagation of these coveted trees. Now each and every Franklinia tree in existence is a direct descendent of those pilferred seeds John and William Bartram took home from the wild of Georgia. They try to document each Franklinia tree to have them registered, so they can tell where you can find one. They also have many labeled "failed" . They can be a persnickety tree to grow it seems. Can you believe that?

If I'm lying, I'm dying!

John Bartram's modest homestead along the Skuylkill River just outside of Philadelphia has its own Franklinia tree among many other pretty-as-you-please plants in formal gardens, along walking paths, woodland trails and meadows. This 46 acre garden is free for all who wish a respite from city life and a drop back in time--to a time when it was perfectly okay to pilfer plant materials for the betterment of the world. Ah, to live in such times!

John Bartram so lived in fear that the invading British forces of the time would destroy his gardens. He wished them preserved at least for his lifetime. Little did he know he had nothing to fear. Bartram Gardens--the oldest intact botanical garden in the whole of the United States-- is not only still around, but is now protected as a National Historical Landmark.

I have a new hero and his name is John Bartram. Perhaps the savior of the Franklinia tree was the original Lorax!




7 comments:

  1. Beautiful! Do they grow in your zone, Glory? Seeds...hm..do you need two trees to flower? Two seeds? ":)

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    1. I have a feeling they would not survive here in USDA zone5b, being they were found in Georgia--much warmer than here-- and Ben Franklin had them growing in Philly where it is zone 7. I would soooo like to try one, but don't think it's practical for me. :-(

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    2. I just looked it up on a site which sells them. They are hardy in 6a-9b, so we are both out of luck.
      http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/43/

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    3. Too bad, my zone is only 3 and that's stretching it. *sigh Some of these trees are SO beautiful, I thought it might grow in some micro-climates in your vicinity. Think south side of buildings on a down-slope so frost will roll off....":)

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    4. Not a chance. Some zone 5 plants don't even make it around here. I believe it is the severe winter wind which blows just over the ridge and batters the house and shivers me timbers! I have created quite a few micro climates but none so good as to help this beauty of a tree survive here. I do wonder of the possibility of a bonsai.

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  2. Glory do you happen to know why they died out in the wild?

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  3. No one knows. They returned to the same spot they found them originally and none were left.It is a mystery.

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