Name: Franklinia alatamaha
Type of Plant: A small tree for full sun or part shade that is appealing for several reasons…read on as I explain.
Why I love this: Every plant has a story, but the tale behind this one is part mystery and part American history. This small tree is sometimes called a tall shrub, but since it can grow to 25 feet tall I hardly consider this to be a mere bush! It was discovered in a wild area of Georgia in 1765 by John Bartram and his son, William. A few years later William collected seeds from these plants and these were propagated by the Bartrams in Pennsylvania. John named the plant after his friend, Benjamin Franklin. The curious thing is that since the early 1800’s the plant hasn’t been found in the wild. So all of the plants under cultivation today are direct descendants of those seeds collected and plants grown by John and William Bartram. If you grow a Franklinia, you are growing a relative of the Bartram’s trees, named for Ben Franklin.
This tree blooms in late summer when most other trees aren’t in bloom. In my garden it flowers from late-August into October and as my photos show, this tree produces white flowers even as the foliage displays fall color.
A Word to the Wise: Franklinia does well in part shade. It likes this area in that it prefers to grow in slightly acidic soils and in an area where it’s protected from hot temperatures. If you have a spot with morning sun and afternoon shade, that’s perfect! This isn’t a plant for full, hot sun or in areas that become wind-tunnels during the winter. Although some list this plant as hardy to zone 5, I who live in a warm zone 6 see that in our coldest winters it suffers some damage. So from my experience I would say that this is a zone 6 to 8 plant, although it might grow back from the ground after a cold zone 5 winter.
Mystery and History – you must have this in your landscape!