Franklinia is a small, multi-stemmed, deciduous tree growing to 12 to 15 feet in height and roughly equal width. The upright, serpentine branches develop striking light gray bark with dark gray vertical fissures. Long, slim, dark green leaves exhibiting dull green undersides, are borne near the tips of the branches. The late summer blooming of a well-grown specimen is an event. The buds begin as white orbs swelling to nearly the size of golf balls before opening to stunning, five-petaled, white flowers with a center of bright yellow stamens. Flowering continues for a number of weeks, the blooms first complimented by the dark green then augmented with the deep, scarlet of the foliage prior to leaf drop. Pollinated flowers produce unique, five-chambered seed capsules that persist through winter.
Though Franklinia takes some time and skill to establish in the garden it is surely one of our most alluring native trees. Franklinia prefers moist yet well-drained, humusy soils with some protection from afternoon sun and winter winds. Branch tip die-back is to be expected in colder winters, though new growth will quickly develop on established plants.
Franklinia is an extinct species in the wild and exists today only in cultivated situations. John Bartram discovered the species along the Altamaha River in Southeastern Georgia in 1770. It is believed that all the plants grown in gardens today are derived from collections he made in the late 18th century.
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