City Trees

May/June 2016

City Trees is a premier publication focused on urban + community forestry. In each issue, you’ll learn how to best manage the trees in your community and more!

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Page 37 of 39

Tree of Merit: Franklin Tree (Franklinia alatamaha) 38 City Trees Of all the trees found growing in arboreta, parks, and other built landscapes, the rarely-planted Franklin tree (Franklinia alatamaha) truly occupies a niche in the urban landscape. It is only in this type of contrived environment that one will find this tree, as it has not been officially sighted in the wild since the early 1800s! Before Franklinia disappeared from the wild, it was native to the untamed forests of the southeast United States. Botanists William and John Bartram found the tree growing in a grove along the Altamaha River in southern Georgia in 1765; all Franklin trees (named for Benjamin Franklin) are descended from seeds collected there by the Bartrams. Franklinia is a small tree, typically maturing between 20 to 30 feet/6 to 9 m tall and no more than 15 feet/4.6 m wide. It's hardy in USDA Zones 5b (5a with winter protection) to 8. It is reported to tolerate a wide range of soil pH, but it does need adequate moisture and well- drained soil rich in organic matter. Its use in the urban environment should be limited to parks, arboreta, or other sites with good soil where there is ample rooting volume for the tree to get its moisture requirements met—and even so, irrigation is a good idea. Because of its small root system, Franklin tree can be difficult to transplant, so starting at very small caliper is your best bet. It is difficult but not impossible to find it in the trade. If any readers are growing this in the urban forest, please share your experience on the SMA Listserve. The Franklin tree can be noted for three important orna- mental traits: the brilliantly-colored scarlet fall foliage, its ornamental bark, and its unique flowering habit. Becoming visible as the summer temperatures cool and the days shorten with the onset of autumn, the scar- let-red foliage on the simple and alternately-arranged leaves can be eye-catching. In winter, the attractive, striated bark offers a dark-light color contrast. When other trees are wrapping up any thought of flowering, Franklinia produces a showy, white-petaled camellia-like flower commencing in July or August and remaining as late as October (in the Northeast US). In addition to its unique timing, the flowers are fragrant and leave one longing for the summer as only the autumn can. —Rick Harper, Extension Assistant Professor of Urban & Community Forestry, UMass Department of Environmental Conservation Franklinia flower • Photo by Michelle Sutton A multi-stem Franklinia tree • Photo by Michelle Sutton

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