McMinnville, Tennessee 931-668-9898


Ben Franklin Tree

$30.00 per plant

Sold as Individual Trees
Plants are between 24-30″ in height.

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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 – apparently 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. 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. Current trees can grow up to 20’ in height and 15’ in width. The plant is a member of the tea family. The hardiness range of the shrub is Zone 5-8, and 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 perfect, white, 5-petaled, fragrant flowers that are borne from late July into August (and weakly into September) 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 relates to an unknown fungal pathogen that 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 also be found at

* 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.

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