The Franklinia tree or Franklin tree, (Franklinia alatamaha) was named after Benjamin Franklin. It was first described by the English botanists John and William Bertram growing along the Altamaha river in Georgia in 1765. The tree became soon extinct in the wild but seeds of the tree were cultivated in the Philadelphia. Supposedly all plants in gardens today are dervied from the Bartram collection. The genus was named by Bartram after his friend and fellow botanist Ben Franklin.
The Franklinia either has a single trunk or grows as a multi-stemmed shrub. Leaves are long, narrow at the base with shiny dark green above and paler green/hairy below. Twigs are green to brown and silty with a terminal silky, hairy bud that elongates to a narrow point. The tree has colorful furrowed bark, smooth slightly toothed oblong leaves turning red in the fall. In the late summer, the tree shows wonderful cup-shaped white flowers with bright yellow stamens in the center. Fruits have a 5-parted woody capsule. The tree is often confused with the related but more common Stewardia that has a smaller, more delicate flower than the Franklinia but otherwise pretty much looks the same
Common name: Franklinia, Franklin Tree
Scientific Name (family and order): Franklinia alatamaha W. Bartram ex Marshall (Theaceae, Ericales)
Species Origin: River bank in Georgia
New Jersey Status: USDA Unreported
Habit: Small tree or shrub with upright-spreading branches (something like Magnolia virginiana in habit); 10’ – 20’ high x 6 – 15’ wide.
Habitat: Zone 5 – 8.
Trunk/Stem: Bark smooth, gray broken by irregular vertical fissures.
Leaves: Deciduous, Simple, Alternate. Alternate simple leaves of 5 -6” long x 3” wide. Obovate-oblong, tip acute. Margins cuneate (base narrowing to petiole), finely-serrate to entire. Shiny dark green above; pubescent below. Leaves lustrous dark green in summer turning to orange- red in autumn.
Flowers: Perfect. White 5-petals, many stamens yellow. Flower 3 – 3 ½” across, fragrant, solitary, slightly cup-shaped. Blooms late July to August.
Fruits and seeds: Fruit a woody 5-valved capsule, ½” diameter splitting into 10 segments. Seeds flattened, angular present in each cell. Seeds mature in autumn.
note: Tree number changed from 479 ( Bob), Buzz: 477