Franklinia is a lovely small tree with a fascinating history. Originally discovered in Georgia in 1765 by botanist John Bartram, it disappeared from the wild less than 50 years later. Fortunately, Bartram had collected seeds and propagated plants, so we still have the species today. Franklinia sports lustrous dark green leaves on upright-spreading branches.
One of this tree's best features is its pure white, golden-stamened, 3-inch-wide flowers that appear in late summer. Often a few late flowers remain when the foliage turns beautiful shades of red and orange in the fall. Though somewhat demanding in its cultural requirements, Franklinia is worth seeking out for its ornamental qualities.
Common name: Franklinia, or Franklin tree
Botanical name: Franklinia alatamaha
Plant type: Small deciduous tree
Zones: 6 to 9
Height: 10 to 20 feet
Family: Theaceae, tea family
- Sun: Full sun or partial shade
- Soil: Moist, well-drained, acidic soil with lots of organic matter. In sandy or clay soils, work in compost, aged manure, or peat moss before planting.
- Moisture: Keep soil evenly moist but not soggy.
- Mulch: Apply 2 to 4 inches of organic mulch such as wood chips, shredded leaves, or pine needles.
- Pruning: Remove broken, dead, or rubbing branches and those that detract from the tree's form.
- Fertilizer: Apply a balanced fertilizer once a year.
- Plants are available in containers or balled and burlapped.
- Seeds must be fresh to germinate well. Plant them immediately when the seed capsules ripen, which occurs almost a year after flowering.
Pests and diseases
- Susceptible to a Phytophthora root rot, especially in poorly drained soil.
- Japanese beetles are fond of the flower buds.
- Franklinia was named in honor of Benjamin Franklin, a close friend of botanist John Bartram.
- Plant Franklinia with other acid-loving native plants, such as Florida azalea (Rhododendron austrinum), flame azalea (R. calendulaceum), and mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia).
- For a fun family grouping, combine Franklinia with its relatives Camellia and Stewartia. Note the family resemblance in the flowers of all three.
- All in the family
- This is the only species in the genus Franklinia.
- The most widely grown member of this family is Camellia sinensis, the tea plant, which is widely cultivated for its fragrant leaves.
- Other landscape ornamentals in the tea family include Camellia, Stewartia, Ternstroemia, and Cleyera.
(Text by Nancy Rose, photo by Amy Sumner)