Ben Franklin Tree
|Price per Plant
- Franklinia alatamaha
John Bartram and his son William were out on an exploratory hike in Georgia in 1765 when they came across a once in a lifetime find. Along the banks of the Altamaha River on a three acre tract, John and William discovered a group of showy, handsome shrubs – presumed to be a common North American plant. In his return journey in 1773, William collected seed from the site to plant in the Bartram garden plot in Philadelphia. This trip would be the last confirmed* siting of the plant colony. William would go on to name the shrub the Ben Franklin Tree after the famous American Benjamin Franklin. Its species name alatamaha was a contemporary variant spelling of the river on which it was discovered. Today all specimens of the Ben Franklin Tree are derived from William Bartram’s expedition. The tree is considered extinct in the wild. This means that the genetic diversity of current plants is rather small, and because of this genetic limitation, some consider the plant difficult to grow. The plant is a member of the tea family. Oddly, the plant performs best in northern habitats – contrary to its discovery location. Ben Franklin Trees often take on upright, spreading form, similar to the Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana). The tree is most appreciated for its white, wonderfully fragrant flowers borne throughout the summer and its wonderful orange to red and purple fall foliage. Today, little is known decisively about why the species disappeared from the Georgia wilds. The most prominent theory is that an unknown fungal pathogen found its way into the river valleys of the Ben Franklin Tree after cotton plantations became a fixture in the colony. Other theories fixate on the single or combined influence of man and natural disasters such as climate change, flood, fire, and disease. In any case, we are lucky that the Bartrams decided to take a hike in 1765. More planting instruction can be found at boydnursery.net/planting/.
* Noted Scottish nurseryman John Lyon claimed to have found six to eight specimens in 1803. The validity of Lyon’s report is in question; however, his report seemed to verify that the species was in severe decline.
|Diseases & Insects
No known pests, but is susceptible to a root-rot disease; not drought tolerant
perfect, white, 5-petaled, fragrant flowers that are borne sporadically from late July into August (and weakly into September)
zone 5a – 8b *need help finding your hardiness zone?
leaves are 5 to 6 inches long of a deep glossy green turning shades of red to purple in the fall
15-20 feet tall at maturity with 10-15 foot spread
What am I buying?
We sell Ben Franklin trees as rooted cuttings. Taken from Wikipedia, “a plant cutting is a piece of a plant that is used in horticulture for vegetative (asexual) propagation. A piece of the stem or root of the source plant is placed in a suitable medium such as moist soil. If the conditions are suitable, the plant piece will begin to grow as a new plant independent of the parent, a process known as striking.” Put more simply, a rooted cutting is a small clone of the specimen from which it was taken. As a genetically identical clone, the cutting shares all the characteristic traits and attributes of the cultivated variety. Our rooted cuttings are 3-6 months old and 1-4 inches in stem length above the soil line. They are clipped from our private stock plants and grown in root pruning trays at our temperature controlled greenhouse.
When are plants collected?
Once your order is placed, your plants will be collected as soon as the weather permits. This time-frame is normally within 3-7 days. During heavy order periods (April-May), this collection time can grow to 10-14 days.
How are plants shipped?
All shipments are mailed via USPS Priority Mail using PirateShip.com. We monitor national weather conditions and temperatures for shipments. If at any time your order must be delayed for weather concerns, we will contact you by phone and/or email. The day that your order is completed or partially shipped, you will receive an email containing your package tracking number. You can also find this updated information by logging into your account on our website.