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What Is Franklinia?

Franklinia is named after Benjamin Franklin.
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  • Written By: A.E. Freeman
  • Edited By: Kathryn Hulick
  • Last Modified Date: 27 August 2014
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The Franklinia is a type of tree or shrub. It originally grew in the southern United States but has since been cultivated to grow in the northeastern part of the country. Franklinia trees can be identified by their multiple trunks, rounded pyramid shape, oblong leaves, and 3 inch wide white flowers that usually bloom in the summer time.

Most types of Franklinia trees are on the small side. The tree usually grows to be between 15 and 20 feet tall (4.5 to 6 meters), but may also grow as a shrub. A good gardener can prune the Franklinia and train it to grow as a tree. It is deciduous, meaning it loses its leaves in the cooler months. Before the leaves fall off, they turn a vibrant red-orange color.

While the leaves of the Franklinia are large, up to 8 inches long (17 cm), it produces small fruit. The berries of the tree are usually no more than 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter. It usually takes up to a year or more for the berries to reach full maturity and to bear seeds.

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All Franklinia trees that exist in modern times come from the trees planted by John and William Bartram in their garden in Philadelphia. The Bartrams found the tree in Georgia in 1765 and named it after the inventor Benjamin Franklin, who was a friend of theirs. William Bartram planted seeds for the tree in his garden in 1777 and had several viable plants growing by the 1780s. Most people believe that all wild Franklinia trees died out by the beginning of the 19th century. Many of the trees Bartram planted in Philadelphia continue to live.

Although the tree was found in a warmer part of the United States, it thrives best in USDA hardiness zone 5, where the average minimum temperature is -10° Fahrenheit (-23° Celsius) each year. The tree also prefers acidic soil that drains well, which could be why it did not survive on its own in the Southern United States, where the soil is clay-like and poor draining. People who decide to grow Franklinia in their gardens may want to place the tree on a mound to encourage the soil to drain properly.

The tree is not drought tolerant and should be watered frequently. It will produce flowers under full sun, but can tolerate partial shade, especially during a hot summer. While the tree does not have many pests, its roots may rot if it is not cared for properly.

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