subscribe to RSS feed

Franklinia – first flower

by William (Ned) Friedman, Director of the Arnold Arboretum
August 6, 2016


Franklinia – first flower


Yesterday, I had a hunch I might see the very first flower of the season on the Franklin trees at the Arnold Arboretum. So off I went to the Explorers Garden on Bussey Hill, where two of the largest Franklinia plants in North America reside (2428-3*A and 2428-3*B, accessioned in 1905). With temperatures approaching 90°F and a gentle summer breeze, the Arboretum was largely devoid of humans – not that the plants mind at all. Our two specimens are packed with thousands of beautiful large flower buds, and (there it was!) a single south-facing open flower (upper photo).

The showy (understatement) flowers of Franklinia alatamaha are magnificent, with dozens of bright yellow stamens that bees love to dive into (lower left), and subtle white petals with crenulate margins (lower right). The fruits take more than a year to develop from flowers, and a close examination of these plants will reveal the crop from last year, just nearing maturity.

Sadly, the Franklin tree (so named in honor of Benjamin Franklin) is extinct in the wild. Franklinia, a member of the tea family (Theaceae), was first described by the father and son colonial plant explorers John and William Bartram in 1765 (on the Altamaha River in Georgia) and was last seen in the wild in 1803. Had this species not been brought into cultivation through the efforts of intrepid plant explorers and botanical gardens, it would have disappeared from the face of the earth, without a trace. To read more about the Arnold Arboretum’s strongly reinvigorated mission to collect, conserve, and study, click here.

2 thoughts on “Franklinia – first flower

  1. Hello,

    We live in southeast Massachuetts. We bought a 5 foot tall potted Franklinia last September. At the time it was winding down its flowering phase. We planted it in an area with a backdrop of pine trees on the west side but with the south, north, and east sides mostly open to the sun. It came through the winter in fine shape. We water as needed. It receives at least 7-8 hours of mostly direct sun per day, with a few additional hours of indirect sun.

    It is thriving, but it never formed any buds this year, therefore no flowers. And about 10% of its leaves started turning red in late July. It has clearly put on height and width this year-but not a sign of a bud!

    What can we do for it? We dread the idea of having to transplant it to a sunnier location.

  2. Your plant sounds like it is healthy in its first year and gets a fair amount of direct sun where you placed it, so perhaps no reason for immediate concern. Franklinia has a reputation for being difficult and slow to establish, so it is not recommended to transplant it once it has been sited in the landscape. Even if you purchased the plant with flowers last year, it likely spent most of its resources this year on roots and vegetative growth, rather than bothering with trying to reproduce itself. Wait a year or two for it to get comfortable in its spot, treat it well, and it will likely reward you with flowers in a year or two.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *