The Franklinia

Franklinia Alatamaha Fan; a NSCDA-GA exclusive

Franklinia Alatamaha Fan; a NSCDA-GA exclusive

Julie Barber, Waycross Town Committee —

Since I read Robert Latimer Hurst’s article, “Franklinana — Lost Flower of the Atlamaha” — in the 2015-16 fall/winter issue of The Waycross Magazine, I have been in contact with my friends, Georgia State Representative Chad Nimmer, Department of Natural Resource Chairman Mark Williams and Josh Lee, DNR specialist for the State of Georgia on rare plants and animals. I had a favor to ask these men: “Would it be possible for the workers on the newly acquired property along the Altamaha River and the Altama plantation by the State of Georgia to look for the ‘lost’ Franklinia, the symbol of the National Society of Colonial Dames in the State of Georgia.”

I was surprised that they all knew the story of the Franklinia, and they were surprised by the interest from the Dames. They have agreed to look for our beloved flower, and we all agreed that we hope one day the plant will return to his original home. If you do not know the story of this beautiful plant, you will become as intrigued as I did with the thought that a lost species could still be in the wilds of a south Georgia river basin.

In Robert Hurst’s research article, originally published in Georgia Backroads, he tells the story of how John Bartram and his son William first discovered the Franklinia in “a modest grove … in Georgia in 1765.” The small tree was growing wild in profusion in the immense bottomlands along the Altamaha River in southeast Georgia. It is reported that William Bartram had given the name Franklinia to the plant in honor of “the great patron of the sciences,” Dr. Benjamin Franklin. The trivial name, “alaramaha,” is added from the river, where alone it was observed to grow naturally. Bartram sent his Franklinia plant and seed collection from Georgia to Philadelphia, where specimens were planted, and, in four years, flowered. In another year they produced viable seed. Bartram began gathering seeds and plants and found a lucrative market selling them to wealthy collectors in Europe. From these accounts, we know that any Franklinia in the world today would be the direct descendant of our Georgia tree.

Today, one does not hear much about the Franklinia’s mysterious disappearance from its original range. In fact, I think it is fair to say one doesn’t hear much about this plant at all. The Franklin tree, also known as “The Lost Camellia” and “The Lost Gordonia,” has been classified as “America’s first rare plant,” and has become legendary in the way of the demise, or near demise, writes Robert Hurst. In his articles, he states, “Efforts by plant experts through the years to rediscover the Franklinia in the wild have been unsuccessful. It is not presumed the colony was destroyed in a later flood, notes a modern seed catalogue offering Franklinia from cultivated stock.

Another speculation declares that the entire plant colony was dug up and shipped to England. Others believe that in order to fill a large order made by a London company in 1787-1789, the botanists harvested too many of the rare plants, thus eradication of the only colony then in existence in the wild.

In addition, others believe that scientific groups that came after the Bartrams asserted that the group did not follow the exact trails as determined by the early botanists through the Georgia swamplands and thus were not able to find the colony in the vast and nearly trackless Altamaha bottomland.

*You can read Hurst’s full article from Georgia Backroads by clicking here Franklin Tree!

The Georgia Logo

Read more about the new state and national society logos in the Members section.

The Georgia Society

The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in The State of Georgia
Headquarters located on the ground floor of the Andrew Low House Museum
329 Abercorn Street
Savannah Georgia 31401
(912) 233-1828 FAX: 912-233-9239
www.nscdaga.org
Director: Sbohlin@andrewlowhouse.com

Georgia Society Pin

The official pin of the Georgia Society is the flower of the Franklinia alatamaha tree. For more information or to download an order form, see the "Forms" section.