Thursday, July 24, 2008

Franklinia alatamaha at the National Arboretum, we keep two specimens of an endanged species alive....

Franklinia alatamaha is one of those enigmas that you do encounter from time to time. It is a plant with a story; discovered on the banks of the Alatamaha River in Georgia in 1765 by John and William Bartram (colonial botanists, father and son). Every plant in existence today is descended from seeds collected by William on a later trip; it was never seen in the wild after 1803. This is not a plant of average or nondescript appearance. It is beautiful with glossy leaves and these spectacular white flowers with orange stamens.

It's not an easy plant to grow and so is rarely encountered as a specimen of any size or quality. A number of theories have been proposed to explain this,but my conclusion after having spent almost 40 years unsuccessfully trying to grow it!, is that is is just a weak plant. The weakness seems to be in its vascular system; it grows nicely to about 6-7 feet and then things begin to go bad. There are theories that connect it's intransigence with a fungus that exists in areas where cotton was once grown, but I don't know...A friend of mine grows great 3 gallon pots (Cam Too Nursery) but keeping them going is another story!

We have two plants, one >15', one ~9', that we received from our Germplasm Unit as ~54" tree-spaded plants. We got them last spring and babied them through one of the worst droughts in Washington DC history. They're both alive now and both have set flower buds. The flower in the picture is on a plant just below the new section of the Flowering Tree Walk, south of the Capitol Columns. The other plant is in the corner of Hickey Run and ValleyRoad.

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