Franklinia

A late summer bloom. Isn’t the flower rather reminiscent of a camellia? In fact, the Franklin tree (Franklinia alatamaha) is in the same family, Theaceae, as the camellias, along with as its fellow natives Stewartia and Gordonia.. But this North American native is presumed extinct in the wild; it hasn’t been spotted since the early 19th century.This one is in the NYBG’s Native Garden. All known living specimens today are presumed to be ancestors of the seeds collected by Willian Bertram in 1773. He and his father John found them a few years earlier on a not very large tract on the Altamaha River*. It’s still not known why they disappeared in the wild. Was it climate change, over-harvesting by collectors, or the introduction by a pathogen via the cotton production that took over the region?

William Bertram wrote about “This very curious tree”: “we never saw it grow in any other place, nor have I ever 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 three acres of ground where it grows plentifully.”

*Somewhere in its wending way, the Altamaha lost the extra “a” of Bartram’s day.

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