Photo by Melody

PlantFiles: Franklinia Tree
Franklinia alatamaha

Family: Theaceae (tee-AY-see-ee) (Info)
Genus: Franklinia (frank-LIN-ee-uh) (Info)
Species: alatamaha (uh-lah-tah-MAH-hah) (Info)

3 vendors have this plant for sale.

10 members have or want this plant for trade.


15-20 ft. (4.7-6 m)

4-6 ft. (1.2-1.8 m)
6-8 ft. (1.8-2.4 m)
8-10 ft. (2.4-3 m)
over 40 ft. (12 m)

USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 C (-10 F)
USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 C (-5 F)
USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 C (0 F)
USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 C (5 F)
USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 C (10 F)
USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 C (15 F)
USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 C (20 F)
USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 C (25 F)

Sun Exposure:
Sun to Partial Shade
Light Shade


Bloom Color:
White/Near White

Bloom Time:
Mid Summer
Late Summer/Early Fall
Mid Fall
Late Fall/Early Winter

Grown for foliage

Other details:
Flowers are fragrant
Requires consistently moist soil; do not let dry out between waterings
Provides winter interest

Soil pH requirements:
5.1 to 5.5 (strongly acidic)
5.6 to 6.0 (acidic)

Patent Information:

Propagation Methods:
From semi-hardwood cuttings
From seed; stratify if sowing indoors

Seed Collecting:
Seed does not store well; sow as soon as possible

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14 positives
5 neutrals
No negatives

Gardeners' Notes:

Positive arbol On Feb 11, 2015, arbol from Nelson
Canada wrote:

I heard this spectacular little tree was a fussy transplanter, but I thought I would give it a go anyways. I must admit that I did not provide an ideal growing medium in terms of pH and soil texture, but the tree is persisting into its 4th year. Also might add that I am in what would be a USDA zone 5. Must say thanks to the northernexotics (Aug. 9th 2014) subscriber for providing such excellent information with regards to its specific growing requirements. Unfortunately, I must dash your hopes of being the most northernly grown Franklinia in North America as you are at 43 degrees latitude and I am just under 50 degrees latitude. I am sure there will be other reports of specimens even further north in time.

Neutral giegertree On Jan 25, 2015, giegertree from Savannah, GA wrote:

Sadly, some moron here in the South has perpetuated a myth that the Franklin tree needs to grow in wet/mucky conditions since it was found along the Altamaha River.

NOT! It grew on the upper banks above the river, having excellent drainage. This is the main cause of Franklin trees croaking here in the Deep South, leading to root fungal problems!

A humusy, rich soil with excellent drainage (but never really dry) is necessary. Partial shade or under pine (high shade) is ideal this far south.

Positive wvbotanist On Sep 28, 2014, wvbotanist from Morgantown, WV wrote:

As a botanist, Franklinia alatamaha was on my "to have" list. On field trips during graduate work at UNC, Chapel Hill, I saw many Gordonia to which it is related. Actually, were it not a "nomen conservandum" then it would be of the genus Gordonia.

I obtained my Franklinia about 16 years ago as the result of the power company giving vouchers for trees they cut along my property. I was taking care of my mother at the time in the home where I grew up and now own. It is 5 acres of an old farm. I planted it in an area with sun, but as it turned out, poor drainage. It almost died. In desperation, I moved it "down back" to an area my dad had planted with hemlock, oak, hickory, birch, beech and tulip poplar in 1937 when they bought the almost treeless property. It is just below the yard and I can see my little Georgia belle from the kitchen window. Last year it had 16 bloom and I photographed almost every one. Our winter was unusual, even for northern West Virginia. We had almost a week with temperatures staying well below zero on two different occasions. I would go down and check the buds which always felt supple. It leafed out w/ only one small branch killed. There is a bloom now and 4 more buds. I had a total of 42 buds earlier and what a joy to watch them come out. One day I had 7 at one time.

A grad school friend of mine, now retired, spent his career in GA where he grew up. A number of years ago on a GA field trip to see Elliottia (a member of the Ericaceae on its way out due to cloning and no/little viable seed production) my friend and a history friend of his talked about hunting Franklinia. They mapped out GA with all possible spots where it might be found and over 30 years, systematically searched for it to no avail. They felt it had never been abundant there.

Recently, I saw a surmise that it originally may have been a more northern species which was pushed south by glacial climates and did not make it back north. A lot of our middle/southern eastern North American flora is closely related to that of Japan and China. As a member of the Theaceae (tea family) this would make sense for Franklinia to be akin to some cooler climate species and actually do better farther north than GA.

I want to try germinating some of the seed.

Positive northernexotics On Aug 9, 2014, northernexotics from Guelph, Ontario
Canada wrote:

I live in Guelph, Ontario, Canada, USDA zone 6a. It is negative 23 Celsius winters on average. My franklinia survived with minor twig die-back after 10 days of negative 34C temperatures in the unusually frigid winter of 2013-14. It is planted on the south side of the house protected from winter winds on a 6ft x 6ft x 3 ft pile of soil mixed specifically for the franklinia, and is similar to my rhododendron soil mix. I cover the franklinia with commercial nursery felt in winter and treat it no differently than my rhododendrons, hardy camellias, magnolia grandiflora "Edith Bogue", hardy crepe myrtle and magnolia virginiana "porcelain Dove" for over-wintering. It is planted on a mound of soil to ensure perfect drainage, always, particularly after an all day rain, the winter snow melts in March and the heavy summer thunderstorm rains. The soil mix is 50% commercial bagged acid soil mix (4.5 to 5.8 ph), 25% small natural pine bark nuggets (naturally acidic) and 25% sand. Peat is avoided except for the peat contained in the commercial bagged acid soil. Peat has a tendency to compact over time as it decomposes. Peat does not maintain the small air-filled soil pockets required by the fibrous roots to search for moisture, oxygen and nutrients. The pine bark chips provide these air pockets and prevent root rot. The soil is monitored several times a week. Soil is kept moist but not wet. In times of hot summer weather I fog the leaves with a hose end fogger in early morning ( time for leaves to dry) to provide humidity. I researched the climate and growing conditions along the Alamataha River where it grew historically and try to duplicate the climate and growing conditions. The plant responds well with abundant flowers, lush foliage all season, beautiful autumn colour and 8 in to 15 in of new season growth after the first planting year. I am very pleased almost in awe of having such a rare and amazing franklinia growing happily so far north. A local community college, Fanshawe College in London Ontario Canada in a growing zone slightly warmer than Guelph ( USDA 7a vs. 6a) reports on its website it has an established franklinia growing in their campus arboretum. They claim it is the most northerly franklinia grown in the world. Assuming their claim has merit, London, Ontario being about 60 km south-west of Guelph makes my franklinia the most northerly grown franklinia in the world. Not likely but fun to think so.
From my experience I conclude it is not so much cold winter temperature ( within reason) that makes growing a franklinia in the north such a challenge but it is meeting the exacting soil requirements it has.
Credentials: Landscape Architect (MLA) and life-long practical horticultural experience.

Positive coriaceous On Feb 13, 2014, coriaceous from ROSLINDALE, MA wrote:

This legendary tree is the latest of the ornamental flowering trees to bloom, and it would be a valuable contribution to the garden for that reason alone. (Here in Boston Z6a it blooms from mid-August to late September.)

But it also has spectacular scarlet fall foliage and a graceful open upright habit (at least when young) that integrates well with other plants in restricted garden spaces. In habit it somewhat resembles sweetbay magnolia (M. virginiana).

Here in the north, establishment can be a gamble. It takes several years to get established, during which time it can be killed by a hard winter, and should receive winter protection. Once established, it's reliably hardy. I have a local friend who grew a specimen from a quart-pot plant, but I recommend starting with a larger plant, preferably at least 5 gallons. It's best planted in spring.

Performance is best in a protected microclimate in full sun, but it will tolerate light shade. Be patient with it in the spring---it's normally late to leaf out.

The specimens at the Arnold Arboretum are remarkable.

Positive Rickwebb On Dec 3, 2013, Rickwebb from Downingtown, PA wrote:

It is an expensive and rare plant that does well in southeast Pennsylvania in locations with good quality soil and shelter from strong winds. My main employer planted one from the Bartram estate in Philadelphia in her back yard and it is doing well, growing about 1 ft/yr so far. Pretty big solitary flowers, good red fall color, and neat, clean habit.

Positive bobbieberecz On Jul 2, 2013, bobbieberecz from Concrete, WA wrote:

This is one of my favorite trees in the garden (and I have MANY!). It survived a transplant 1 year after the original placement. The first 3 years the buds didn't open before our frosts hit, but last year they finally became delightful flowers and, true to their reputation, kept poking in and out of the red/orange foliage. I'm in the mountains of northwest Washington state and our winters can get to 5 degrees. My tree gets mid morning sun into the afternoon, then, about 3PM, shade. It gets watered regularly with the other flowers in the bed and my soil is sandy loam with fertile mulch. It loves it's spot and is really putting on the growth this year (its fourth).

Positive tdculp On May 14, 2013, tdculp from Lima, PA wrote:

I recently bought a house in media, pa and to my surprise i have recently been informed that we have 4 Franklinia's on the property. 3 of them are along the roadway and are about 20' tall and one closer to my house and is about 12' tall. It has beautiful flowers last october right after we moved in.

Positive surpriseberry On Aug 18, 2012, surpriseberry from Edgewater, MD wrote:


Discovered in the wild along Georgia's Altamaha River in 1765 by botanists John and William Bartram, this beautiful landscape tree is considered extinct in the wild. The Bartrams named the plant in honor of their friend Benjamin Franklin. All Franklinias today are descended from those propagated by the Bartrams in their Philadelphia garden. It is a deciduous, understory tree with an upright habit. It can be grown as a single-trunked tree or a multi-stemmed shrub. The fragrant white flowers have bushy yellow stamens and the leaves are dark green and glossy, turning orange, red, and purple in the fall. It blooms in late summer and early autumn, when few other trees are in flower. The fruit that follows is woody and spherical. Franklin tree makes a great addition to an open area of a woodland garden.
Noteworthy characteristics: Glossy foliage and good fall color. Beautiful, camellia-like flowers that are fragrant and bloom late in the season. Native.
Care: Grow in organically rich, moist but very well-drained soil of acidic to neutral pH, in full sun. Resents transplanting and should not be disturbed in the landscape.
Propagation: Sow seed as soon as ripe at 50 to 64F. Root softwood cuttings in summer using bottom heat.
Problems: Wilt and root rot can be serious problems, and Japanese beetles may eat the flowers.

Positive blackberrylily On May 25, 2012, blackberrylily from Erie, PA wrote:

I looked for some time for a Franklinia tree - most nurseries were not familiar with it in Erie, Pennsylvania (zone 5). I finally found one and planted it two years ago on the north side of my house. The first winter we had a blanket of snow the entire season and come spring I thought it was dead. It finally leafed out, sending small shoots from the trunk, some of which I pinched hoping to encourage the stronger, top branches. Last winter I wrapped it in burlap and it has sent one green growth out; the top branches are dead. I hope it has some additional growth this summer and I'm not touching it! So far, no sign of its spectacular bloom.

Positive rustyduck On May 4, 2012, rustyduck from Morrisville, PA wrote:

I had seen a Franklinia at a nursery a number of years ago. I loved its blooms and form. At the time, I did not own a home, so filed it away as a must have for when I did have a yard. When the time came, it was a bit of a challenge for my local nursery to find me a suitable speciman, and it was much shorter than I wanted. I planted it in the fall with care, but was very disappointed the following spring when the buds formed and then dried up. I was about to dig the remains up and start over when I noticed that a small shoot was coming out of the side of the skinny trunk. It grow well last summer. I held my breath this spring, knowing that the Franklinia was among the last to leaf out. It's back! It's only about three feet tall, but it is a survivor! It will be well worth the attention ... I can't wait for it to mature.

Positive QuercusAlba On Aug 21, 2011, QuercusAlba from Beverly, MA (Zone 6b) wrote:

If carefully sited, this unusual camellia relative performs beautifully in southern and coastal New England. Ideal location here is a warm sunny spot protected from northwesterly winds.

Neutral holeth On Dec 12, 2009, holeth from Corpus Christi, TX (Zone 9a) wrote:

Hardy here. Extremely fragrant. Only specimen I've ever seen is gone. Eradicated about 20 yrs ago from white pines lining a neighbor's border because it didn't fit in. Property owner considered it a weed and destroyed it.

Positive CarterGardener On Nov 20, 2009, CarterGardener from Asheville, NC wrote:

There is a Franklinia tree growing at Biltmore Estate in Asheville NC. The Fall color is an amazing orange, and the bark pattern is like no other! It is approximately 12 feet tall and planted amongst other larger trees.

Neutral ScudAg56 On Nov 6, 2009, ScudAg56 from Grand Bay, AL wrote:

This facinating tree was first discovered by Bartram in 1765 and was last seen in the wild in 1790. Despite its southeastern location, the tree appears to grow better in cooler climes. It is theorized that glaciation eradicated the tree from almost all of its original range, leaving only a remnant growing in its southernmost portion along the Altamaha River. It is one of the few trees that flower in the fall.

Positive fordhere On Jul 2, 2008, fordhere from Akron, OH wrote:

I have had this tree in my yard for nearly twenty years and it has thrived even though it is not listed for zone 5. It is planted close to my front porch so it is protected. The Franklinia is one of my favorite trees. When we bought it at the nursery no one knew anything about this tree and it looked like it was dead (it doesn't leaf until after the other trees).

Neutral Monocromatico On Jun 27, 2003, Monocromatico from Rio de Janeiro
Brazil (Zone 11) wrote:

I was reading about this species. I saw it listed among the most endangered species in Texas. It naturally has a low rate of germination from seeds, and propagation by stem cuttings is always a failure... So bad, I saw so many pictures of flowering individuals, the flowers are awesome!...

edit: I recently read an article where the authros were sucessful on hybridizing F. alatamaha with a chinese relative, Schima argentea, in an atempt to save the Franklinias genome, "stored" in a different plant until it can be used to effectively propagate Franklinia Trees.

Neutral Ivey On Jan 13, 2001, Ivey from Lyles, TN wrote:

Just a reminder, Franklinia is now known only in cultivation. Don't let this happen to your favorite plant!

Positive Chooch On Nov 11, 2000, Chooch from Chatham-Kent, ON (Zone 6a) wrote:

The most famous discovery of American botanists John and William Bartram. The father and son explorers discovered a small grove of this unknown tree growing along the Altamaha River in Georgia in 1765. On a later trip, William gathered seeds to propagate at their Philadelphia garden. They named the tree Franklinia alatamaha in honor of John Bartram's great friend, Benjamin Franklin.

A multi-stemmed tree, the growth Rate is 10-20 feet in 20 years. Creamy white fragrant flowers bloom late July into September.

Dark green leaves turn orange and red in the fall, often in combination with a few late flowers. Subtly striped branches and persistent seed capsules add winter interest.


This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

Morrilton, Arkansas
Glastonbury, Connecticut
Lewes, Delaware
Dahlonega, Georgia
Savannah, Georgia
Winnetka, Illinois
Clermont, Kentucky
Georgetown, Kentucky
Lexington, Kentucky
Louisville, Kentucky
Versailles, Kentucky
Beverly, Massachusetts
Loreto, Massachusetts
Roslindale, Massachusetts
West Tisbury, Massachusetts
Saint Joseph, Missouri
Camden, New Jersey
Buffalo, New York
Franklin Square, New York
Homer, New York
Staten Island, New York
Asheville, North Carolina
Thomasville, North Carolina
Akron, Ohio
Chardon, Ohio
Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania
Morrisville, Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
West Chester, Pennsylvania
Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania
Sandy Springs, South Carolina
Summerville, South Carolina
Alexandria, Virginia (2 reports)
Nellysford, Virginia
Orlean, Virginia
Castle Rock, Washington
Concrete, Washington
Kenmore, Washington
Morgantown, West Virginia

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