A late fall visit to the only Franklinia alatamaha in Central Park.This tree is considered extinct in the wild, yet survives as an ornamental through the trade and botanical institutions. Its original range was quite limited, in the Altamaha River valley of Georgia. We’re definitely north of that, but a wait a bit… by mid-century NYC will have the same climate that Norfolk, VA, has now. Georgia can’t be far behind.William Bertram‘s 1782 illustration of the scrumptious flower. He and his father John, botanists who explored the southeast in the 1760s and 1770s, were the first Europeans to collect and record the plant. It was named in honor of their fellow Philadelphian Ben Franklin.
William described the tree as “of the first order for beauty and fragrance of blossoms.” And that “we never saw it grow in any other place, nor have I ever seen it growing wild, in all my travels” other than that small patch of Georgia. I’ve personally seen one other in NYC, in the Native Flora section of the NYBG. According their on-line database, the BBG has one amid the Hostas north of the Rock Garden.