….Planted as a CUTTING in 1908! Franklinia or The Franklin Tree. You can find this sprawling tree in bloom right NOW on the Chinese Path/Explorer’s Garden at the top of Bussey Hill at the Arnold Arboretum. This shot reminds me of a Dutch still life with the ants!
The first reported encounter with this tree on the continent was in the British colony, Georgia. John and William Bartram first observed the tree growing along the Altamaha River in 1765:
“We never saw it grow in any other place, nor have I ever since seen it growing wild, in all my travels, from Pennsylvania to Point Coupe, on the banks of the Mississippi, which must be allowed a very singular and unaccountable circumstance; at this place there are two or 3 acres of ground where it grows plentifully” (W. Bartram, 1791).
While it’s difficult to transplant, once established Franklinia can survive a century or more like the one pictured here. The tree is now extinct in the wild for a number of reasons but mainly due to overcollection by plant collectors and a fungal disease introduced with the cultivation of cotton plants. Because Franklinia does not tolerate compacted clay soil (which, unfortunately are the conditions in Cambridge) or any disturbance to its roots, the tree is a bad candidate for urban environments. True, it’s not planted much in Cambridge or Boston yet, it looks so familiar…At Jean Brooks Landscapes, we love planting Stewartia which is in the same family as Franklina and has a VERY similar look. Both have the colorful exfoliating bark. Both have the same red leaf in autumn and the same fried-egg- looking flower. Stewartia has a smaller, more delicate flower than the Franklinia which has a heartier, rubbery, magnolia-like petal.
If you get the chance, I highly recommend visiting the Arboretum in the new few days. Foliage color is at its peak AND the Franklinia atop Bussey Hill, the miraculous survivor from a 1908 cutting is still in bloom!