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American History? You Can Grow That!

Garden Reports and Rejoicing – November 16

A couple of days ago a woman who listens to my radio program called. She is part of a local non-profit and they were considering planting a Franklinia alatamaha tree outside their building. “Can this tree survive on Cape Cod?” she asked.

I wandered out in my garden and looked at my Franklinia while I spoke to her. This lovely small tree/large shrub was one of the first trees we planted at Poison Ivy Acres four years ago. It always blooms from September into November and frequently has flowers at the same time as colorful fall foliage.

It’s worth reading about the history of this plant because my tree, and yours too if you get one, is related to the plants discovered by John and William Bartram in 1765. Since they were there in October, I’m guessing that the shrubs were in bloom when they came upon them. They named the plant after John Bartram’s good friend, Benjamin Franklin.

On a subsequent journey to the Altamaha River in Georgia, William collected seeds and brought them back to Philadelphia. A good thing too, as the tree was last seen in the wild in 1803 by John Lyon, an English plant collector. After that it disappeared.

All the Franklinias today are descended from seed collected by William Bartram and grown at the Bartram garden. So growing a Franklinia is kind of like having a dog descended from Rin Tin Tin. You feel an actual physical connection to something and someone special from the past.

As we move through the busyness of our days it’s easy to forget that we’re linked to people and places in the past and the future. It’s good to have a reminder of those connections growing in the backyard.

If you're lucky enough to see Kirk Brown appearing as John Bartram ( ask him about this tree.

2 comments to American History? You Can Grow That!

  • Hi C.L. Don’t know if I could grow that or not. May be in Florida I think we are zone 9 there. Would have to work on the soil a little.

    Have a great evening,

  • Ben

    What a great story. I think we get so caught up in the newest cultivar or trendy style and we forget some of the stories that made us fall in love with plants in the first place. I met a woman a few months ago who had some “Jefferson Daisies” in her back garden. Technically, they’re New England Asters, but not to her! She inherited the house and garden from her grandmother who “collected” them during a trip to Monticello decades ago. During the free tour she heisted a few “divisions” and brought them back to Indiana in her suitcase, hence the name “Jefferson Daisies.” I love these stories.