This carpenter bee has found a Franklinia tree that was purchased at a GNPS Plant Sale about five years ago.
We often focus on widespread plants that are easy to cultivate, but not this time. Within decades after its discovery by John Bartram in 1765, Franklin tree (Franklinia alatamaha) was extinct in its very small native range along the Altamaha River in southeastern Georgia, and it still carries that designation of being extinct in the wild. The reasons for its disappearance in the wild have never been completely agreed upon, but one theory attributes it to the introduction of a cotton pathogen with the advent of the plantation economy. It certainly suffered from a limited genetic diversity in such a small range, and today’s plants are all descendants of seeds collected by Bartram. Another theory is that Franklinia came south with the ice age, became geographically isolated, and never made it back home, which is consistent with its cold hardiness.
Although rare, it has been successively grown as far north as Boston, and the national champion is in Philadelphia, attaining a height of over 30 feet and a circumference of over 2 feet. The Georgia state champion is in the Quarry Garden at the Atlanta History Center. If you want to catch it in bloom, you have time – Franklin trees are blooming now, but can bloom up to the first frost. If you want to learn more, one good source is an article at www.terrain.org. If you’re thinking about cultivating one, that source notes Franklinia “is sensitive to root rot and … it is not a particularly vigorous plant. It requires enriched, well-drained, acidic soil with ample watering during dry periods. It is at best moderately drought- and heat-tolerant, yet amazingly it tolerates cold and subzero temperatures fairly well.”