Sunday, January 17, 2010


Franklinia alatamaha - The Franklin Tree - the only member of the Franklinia genus which is related to Gordonias and the Camallia. It is a slow growing, upright, small tree reaching around 20 feet which is not extinct in the wild. Some records include: fastest recorded growth rate - 2 feet; 20 years - 17 x 17 feet; largest on record - 43 x 42 feet with a trunk diameter of 2 feet; longest lived - 122 + years. Large trees grow in the Philly region at places including Longwood Gardens and Westtown School. It was originally discovered in 1765 by American Botanist John Bartram along the shores of the Altamaha River in Georgia where it grew abundantly on 2 or 3 acres. This is the only place that the Franklinia has ever been documented to grow wild. In 1999, there were 2046 known trees worldwide.
He then took the seeds back to his garden in Philadelphia where every Franklinia currently in cultivation worldwide is a descendent of. It has not been seen in the wild since 1803 though it is suspected that it may have survived along the Altamaha River until the 1840s when it got wiped out by fire or flood.
The oblong leaves are up to 10.5 x 3 inches. The foliage is glossy deep green above, hairy light green beneath, turning to intense scarlet in autumn which is often an incredible combination with the white flowers.
The "Camellia-like" white flowers are prolifically produced on established plants. They are up to 3 or rarely 5 inches in width and are borne July into autumn.
The flowers are followed by a woody capsule that contains 2 flat seeds. The fruits may take over a year to ripen.
The twigs are silky and brown with a long narrow pointed terminal bud. The bark is reddish.
It grows very well in zones 6 and 7 once established and may also grow in zone 5 on a site protected from winter winds. The Franklinia prefers morning sun only on an acidic, light, well drained soil though it is slightly alkaline tolerant. It does not tolerate compacted clay soils or drought. It enjoys hot humid summers to a certain limit, it is prone to phytophora root rot on wet soils in the hot humid south and actually grows better in the northeast and Mid Atlantic. It can be difficult to transplant but is also very long lived. It is much easier to establish smaller containerized plants than ball and burlap field grown.

* photos taken on Aug 25 2011 @ Scott Arboretum @ Swarthmore College, PA

* photos taken on July 17 2010 in Philly, PA

* photo of unknown internet source

* historic archive photo

Ben's Best'
Exceptionally vigorous with as much as 20 x 15 feet possible in 10 years. Hardy north to zone 5.

More vigorous and hardy north to zone 5



A genus of close to 70 species of trees and shrubs related to the Camellia.
They prefer partial shade on moist, fertile, light, slightly acidic well drained soil. They can be tip pruned after flowering.
Propagation can be from half hardened cuttings and seed.

Gordonia axillaris
A small evergreen tree that is native to southeast Asia. Some records include: 20 years - 20 x 13 feet; largest on record - 40 x 40 feet with a trunk diameter of 1.33 feet.
The smooth-edged to shallowly-toothed, leathery leaves are up to 7.5 x 2.5 inches in size. The glossy foliage is reddish at first, turning to very deep green above, paler beneath.
The fragrant, white flowers, up to 6 inches wide, with 5 or 6 petals have conspicuous golden-yellow stamens.
Hardy zone 7 to 10 in full sun on moist, slightly acidic, well drained soil.

Gordonia lasianthus ( Loblolly Bay )
A fast growing, narrow, upright, evergreen tree up to 60 feet that is native to the southeast U.S. from Mississippi to North Carolina, south to central Florida. Some records include: fastest recorded growth rate - 7 feet ( on a containerized tree ); 2 years - 10 x 5 feet; largest on record - 117 x 61 feet with a trunk diameter of 4.5 feet.
The thick, finely-toothed, oblong leaves are up to 7 x 2 inches in size.
The foliage is glossy deep green above, bright green beneath. Though evergreen, the older foliage turns scarlet red before falling.
The showy fragrant white flowers, up to 4 inches across, are generally borne during summer though may occur from May into October.
They are followed by ovoid, woody capsules, up to 0.8 inches in length.
The scaly ridged bark is reddish-brown.
Hardy zone 8 to 10, tolerating as low as 3 F. It can grow in sun or shade but requires acidic soil and is not tolerant of drought. Flood tolerant, it often grows along the edge of swamps in the wild.

* historical archive photos

Gordonia yunnanensis
A rapid growing, medium size, evergreen tree that is similar to Michelia in appearance. Some records include: largest on record - 90 feet with a trunk diameter of 2.5 feet.
The luxuriant, smooth edge to very shallow toothed, thick, leathery leaves are up to 8 inches in length.
The nodding white flowers, up to 5 inches across, with showy golden-yellow stamens, begin to open during autumn through the winter then with a heavier bloom during spring.
Hardy zone 8 to 11

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