Randalls Island Park Alliance

The Lost Camellia

In What's in Bloom on June 22, 2012 at 4:33 pm

By Phyllis Odessey

Franklinia alatamaha is a tree I have tried to grow in my garden in Vermont with no luck.  At Randall’s Island we have had success with this mysterious American plant, known as the Franklin tree.

It was discovered by John Bartram and his son William in the 18thcentury in Georgia.  The tree has completely disappeared from the wild and we owe its survival to the Bartram’s passion for plant collecting and seed propagation.

Within the horticulture world, the Franklin tree’s origins are a subject of ongoing debate. Some recent research has shown that the Franklin tree once thought a native American plant was actually introduced to the American landscape by the British during the colonial period.  However, Michael Dirr, noted expert on woody trees and shrubs still maintains the Franklin tree is a native American tree.

The Franklinia is a member of the tea family (Theaceae), which also includes camellias, which are native to Japan, Korea and China.  The Franklinia is prized for its white fragrant flowers with egg-yolk color stamens.  If you want to get a whiff of the fragrance take a walk along the Waterfront Garden.

I like a tree or shrub or perennial that has more than one note.  The Franklin tree will continue to flower into fall, even when the foliage turns from red to purple.  Considered either a large shrub or small tree, for garden designers the Franklinia has an important place within the garden setting.  In our garden it’s a star.

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