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If you’re passionate about trees and fascinated with their histories, then the Franklin Tree, or Franklinia, is a must-have for your collection. Once native to the U.S., this rare and exquisite flowering tree is now extinct in the wild and survives only as a specimen in gardens. And what a specimen it is! In August and September, when most trees are simply green, Franklinia will grace your mixed border, patio area, or entryway garden with elegant, fragrant white flowers measuring three inches wide or more. They resemble the blossoms of Camellias and Stewartias, to which the Franklin Tree is related. They’re reason enough to throw a garden party!
Franklinia was discovered in Georgia in 1765 by John and William Bartram, father and son plant explorers from Pennsylvania. They named the lovely new tree for their good family friend, Benjamin Franklin. William returned to that little grove of trees in 1776 to collect seed, and it’s fortunate he did, because except for one disputed sighting by another botanist in 1803, the Franklin Tree was never seen in the wild again. All of the Franklinias in the world today are descendants of that crop of seedlings William Bartram raised on his Pennsylvania farm during the Revolutionary War.
In addition to beautiful flowers and a captivating story, the Franklin Tree has something else to offer—amazing fall color! When the days turn crisp and cool, its Magnolia-like leaves heat up, taking on shades of purple, crimson, and scarlet-orange. Sometimes there are even some late white flowers nestled amongst the fiery foliage.
How to Grow
Franklinia is a rather persnickety tree and isn’t a good choice for the novice gardener. However, if your thumbs are green, it will be the pride and joy of your garden. Give Franklin Tree a site in full sun or very light shade with moist but well-drained, acidic soil that has lots of organic matter worked in. Despite being a Southern belle, it’s surprisingly cold-hardy and does well in much of New England, provided the soil is to its liking. This is normally a short-lived tree, though a couple of well-tended specimens at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston are over 100 years old.
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Size A Trees:
4-5' tall. Well formed branching grown in our #7 tree container. Flowering age.
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