Franklinia-A Lovely Native Tree

Franklinia-A Lovely Native Tree
Franklinia is a lovely native tree. It is a perfect choice for pollinator gardens in the South and Southeast.

The tree was found during the Colonial Era, and disappeared from the wild. Now, the only trees that exist now are cultivated ones. A member of the tea or camellia family, the genus name was chosen to honor Benjamin Franklin.

The species name refers to the nearby river in Georgia where the tree was first found. The plant was first reported by William Bartram, who was traveling with his son, John, in 1773 or 1774. John returned to the area in 1777 and obtained seeds. On that trip, he reported observing several acres of the trees growing in the vicinity where they first saw the plants.

Some of the seeds John collected were planted in the Bartram garden in Philadelphia. Franklinia was last reported in the wild in 1790.

Description of Franklinia

This small upright, coarse textured flowering tree reaches 15 to 20 feet in height with a spread of 8 to 15 feet. The mostly smooth, very attractive bark is a combination of light gray and dark gray. This can develop some furrows as the tree ages.

The alternate, finely toothed, magnolia-like leaves are shiny and deep green. Ranging from obovate to oblanceolate, they’re 5 to 8 inches long and 2 to 3 inches across. The undersides are covered with soft hairs. The foliage turns red or orange just as the tree begins flowering.

Depending on the weather, flowering can extend from late summer into fall for three months. The five, creamy white, crinkled petals tend to overlap and form a bowl-like bloom that is reminiscent of camellias. Up to 4 inches wide, the blossoms emerge near the ends of the stems on very short stalks.

The showiest parts of the blooms are the very fluffy, bright yellow-orange to gold stamens. The sepals are softly hairy. Franklinia is an excellent pollinator plant for it brings lots of pollen along with much nectar.

The large, woody spherical fruits are capsules. These ripen the year after the blossoms appear. These split once the seeds are ripe.

Growing Franklinia

This tree blooms best in areas with hot, humid growing conditions. It needs a sheltered, sunny spot in order to develop good fall color. The soil should be rich with a high organic matter content and must be well drained. The plant grows best in alkaline soils, but can tolerate acid conditions. However, the seeds require an acidic soil in order to germinate.

For best results, mulch is recommended. Water as needed during dry spells.

This tree is easy to grow from seeds provided these are fresh.
The plant rarely requires pruning.

With a slow to moderate growth rate, it does best in zones 6 through 10. It can survive north of New York, but is best treated as a shrub with the top dying back during the very harsh winters.

Franklinia isn’t known to develop pest problems. However, vascular wilt disease can kill the plant. To prevent the disease, fumigate the soil before planting and only plant in a spot with good drainage.

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This content was written by Connie Krochmal. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Connie Krochmal for details.