Visitors to UBC Botanical Garden during this time of year are strongly advised to spend some time in the Carolinian Forest Garden, primarily for the autumn colours and fruits. There are a few late-flowering plants, though, such as the species highlighted today.
I’ve had my eye on photographing this particular plant since September when I first noticed the flower buds forming, but it took until October before the first flowers opened. Some early photo attempts were also discarded; as you can see from the swelling buds above the open flower, the flowers are borne in the axils of the leaves, and from some of the easily-accessible places to photograph it, the blade of the leaf would cut across the flower and be a distraction. This necessitated waiting a few more days for different flowers to open. On this particular day, though, I had decided not to bother attempting to photograph it due to the wind. I changed that decision when I walked around the plant and noticed I could place the yellow foliage of a distant tree behind the plant. A fast lens and some patience in waiting for a gap in the wind yielded today’s image.
Franklinia alatamaha is one of two species cultivated in UBC Botanical Garden thought to be extinct in the wild (with a few more on the brink). Known only from a small area in Georgia (in the USA) along the Altamaha River, Franklinia alatamaha was last collected in 1803, perhaps going extinct soon after. The first documented observation of the species was in 1765, though it took another two decades to scientifically publish the name. Named by William Bartram, this monotypic (single species) genus honours Benjamin Franklin, who was a friend of William’s father, John Bartram.
Others have written on the story of the Franklin tree in detail, e.g., see Penn State Extension’s Tree of the Month article on Franklinia alatamaha or Terrain.org’s article on America’s “First” Rare Plant. Seeing this plant always invokes in me thoughts about how many species have gone extinct in human history without any scientific (or cultural) trace of their existence (these thoughts then prompting a number of vexing questions on conservation efforts and extinction). Attempts to reintroduce Franklinia alatamaha into the wild have not been without controversy, as some still hold the hope that wild plants yet remain.