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Tree of the Month - Franklinia or Franklin Tree (Franklinia alatamaha)

Posted: September 11, 2012

Horticulturists and gardeners owe a debt of gratitude to the early American botanists John and William Bartram for making this handsome small flowering tree available to us.
Franklinia alatamaha is no longer found in the wild, but this lovely tree belongs in every garden that can accomodate its cultural requirements

Franklinia alatamaha is no longer found in the wild, but this lovely tree belongs in every garden that can accomodate its cultural requirements

It has been extinct in the wild since the early 1800s. The plants grown today are descendants of seed the Bartrams collected from Franklinia trees they discovered on the banks of the Altamaha River in southeastern Georgia in 1765. William Bartram named the tree after his father’s friend, Benjamin Franklin. A few of the original Franklinia trees remain today at Bartram’s Garden in Philadelphia, PA.

Despite its southern roots, Franklinia is hardy in zones 5-8. In the “Manual of Woody Landscape Plants,” Michael Dirr notes ironically that Franklinia performs better in the northern United States than it does in the south, perhaps because it is susceptible to a soil-borne disease associated with cotton.

Since Franklinia had such a small native distribution, it should come as no surprise that it can be finicky in the garden. But if you have the right spot for it, few trees compare to its beauty. Franklinia grows best in part shade - morning sun and shade from the hot afternoon sun is ideal - and evenly moist, well-drained, acidic soil that has good organic matter content.

Franklinia grows 10 to 25 feet tall with a slightly smaller spread and has an open, airy growth habit. Trees may be single-stemmed or multi-stemmed. It blooms in late summer when many other plants are long done flowering. The fragrant three-inch flowers are white with conspicuous yellow stamens in the center. Franklinia blooms over a long period, often in concert with its striking orange-red fall foliage. The smooth gray bark is marked by white stripes and becomes fluted with age, adding winter interest to Franklinia’s repertoire. Franklinia is an excellent specimen or patio tree, and should be planted where people pass by it frequently to savor its beauty in all seasons.

Contact Information

Sandy Feather
  • Extension Educator, Green Industry
Email:
Phone: 412-482-3454