firsts: franklinia alatamaha


Is there anything like the first bloom on a plant that’s been babied along? I bought this one at the fall HPSO sale in ’06. Sunset’s Western Garden Book says it will bloom in 6-7 years, so I guess it was a three-year-old when it came home with me, or I just got lucky. It resides in a big pot right by the front steps, so I can keep an eye on it. Daily visits produced the drama only another gardener would recognize as such. The one blossom swelled…slowly…from a small green bead to this golden ball, and then…


suddenly (OK, “suddenly” is maybe a stretch…meaning only that it happened when I wasn’t looking) there it was! A lightly fragrant cup cradling a shock of bright yellow stamens. Each time I looked, it was being visited by one of these anonymous little bugs: not quite bee and not quite beetle. He did have an eye for design, as his black body was striped with the exact same yellow as the stamens. And now the single flower is gone. I just went out to sniff, in the hope of describing the elusive aroma. Too late. The leaves will gradually turn to flame before they fall. My original plan was to introduce Franklinia altahama into the landscape, but life in a pot seems to suit it fine and will thwart its natural tendency to reach 20-30 feet in height.

7 thoughts on “firsts: franklinia alatamaha

  1. What a sweet story for these cooling fall days. It doesn’t look like the kind of flower you find in fall, so it’s all the nicer because of it. Good for you, bringing the Franklinia along these several years, and what a bonus you didn’t have to wait six years to see it in flower!

  2. Hi I’m a first timer. Saw your reply on Danger Garden. I’m a fellow Pacific Northwester. Several years ago during my fragrant flower/foliage obsession I was determined to buy a Franklinia, having heard about its lore of near extinction if it weren’t for Ben Franklin [?] and his efforts to save it. [My memory could be off on this.] And of course the fragrant flowers were an immediate appeal. But the ultimate size was what made me hesitate. Container culture sounds like it’s working for you. Hmmm…. I might have to rethink things.

  3. Jane: It is a decidedly spring-ey looking flower, isn’t it? I am told that flowering sometimes even coincides with scarlet leaves…wouldn’t that be something!
    Grace: Welcome! Nice to hear from you. I must confess, I have been “lurking” on your site for a while. Don’t know why I have never left a comment…will hop on over and correct that right away. And thanks for the historical perspective.
    Loree: Thanks for sending Grace my way. I have found several swell sites via yours.

  4. Wendy: yes, very like a magnolia, only much smaller (about 2″ across) and more delicate. I have heard that it is easy to start from seed, and there is a seed left behind once the petals fall. I may even plant it…what’s seven years in the life of a gardener?

  5. Oh my ricki. Serious garden envy going here. I want this tree so bad, it is absolutely the top of my list of garden wants. I’ve killed it twice now. Some day I’m going to learn how to make it happy. Congratulations on your bloom. Hopefully you’ll get that to-die-for leaf color while the bloom is still around.

  6. Megan: I do think these are a bit temperamental. Maybe keeping one in a pot is the way to go. I always seem to give the potted plants close to the house extra attention. Good luck!

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