Franklinia alatamaha

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’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.

Franklinia alatamaha

10 responses to “Franklinia alatamaha”

  1. Bonnie

    The photograph itself is wonderfully done!

  2. Elizabeth

    Gosh! Love these sweetly scented, late season blooms!! Hope they don’t get frozen over this year!!

  3. Ron B

    Example shown looks quite like Gordonia x Franklinia rather than Franklinia, might this be in the display with the wrong label? Or be present without a label, the Franklinia identification having been assumed?

  4. mynativeplants

    Your patience paid off handsomely. Delightful photo! Fall flowers are a rarity, thanks Daniel.

  5. Robin Day

    It is so rare. Does it have any insects that bother it?

  6. Steven

    Daniel – what an exquisite photograph!! And, a truly lovely tree as well. What is doubly puzzling about the extinction of Franklinia is that it occurred in a relatively remote area to the European colonization of Georgia that began in the 1730’s at Savannah. I.e. why the extinction?
    Also, Franklinia has a lovely, and very husky evergreen cousin, the Loblolly-bay (Gordonia sp.) which lights up the edges of the coastal swamps and marshes with abundant white flowers that look like larger, more bowl-shaped versions of Franklinia.
    Thanks so much!!

  7. Wendy Cutler

    Ron, Nadia and I have posted that same plant on the forums three times. Did you have the same thought about the ID in our less artful photos?

  8. Ron B

    Regarding the hybridity question I didn’t notice anything before. The clone I have looks enough like the Franklinia that I would want to compare cut specimens of the UBC plant – there is definitely only the one? – with a known Franklinia elsewhere in town. Maybe they have one at Van Dusen, for instance.
    As in the photo used at the head of this thread my example of the cross is still green at this time.

  9. Wendy Cutler

    Ron, the accession number for my photos is the same as the one here. UBC just has the one, as far as I know. VanDusen does have three. I don’t think Nadia or I will be the ones doing any cutting to compare them from the two locations. 🙂

  10. Daniel Mosquin

    A comment from Doug S that had some issues getting through the commenting system:
    “Your wonderful photo evokes memories of a beloved Franklinia in a garden I established 40+ years ago in Cambridge, Mass. (USA). It’s a very handsome tree with much to recommend it. Franklinia was one of the first trees I planted there and it rewarded me with these beautiful white blossoms in September and October each year. The leaves are shiny green and turn a startling bronze in the fall. Passersby would occasionally stop and ask what it was, since there are few trees that bloom at that season in New England.”

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