Sunday, July 22, 2007

Franklinia alatamaha

There are several themes in my garden which might not be apparent to visitors. One theme is fragrant flowers: given a choice between a fragrant rose and a showy but scentless one, the fragrant one is the one which gets a place in the garden. Another theme which is not at all apparent is one based on the plants illustrated in Audubon's Birds of America. It came as a surprise to me to learn that Audubon himself often did not paint these plants. A reproduction of the plate showing Franklinia alatamaha and the Bachman's warbler hangs in our kitchen, a room which overlooks the garden and our own Franklinia. Since we're unlikely to ever see a Bachman's warbler here, we pretend that the bird in the picture is a goldfinch: we see plenty of those! Audubon wrote that the Franklinia was painted by a Miss Martin, the sister of the Reverend Mr. Bachman for whom the bird is named.

The Franklinia in the garden is enormous. Even people who know Franklinia from other sites are often puzzled by it. Many stare at it awhile and then ask, haltingly, if it is some kind of magnolia. The responses I get after identifying it are typically " I didn't know it got that big" or "Isn't that usually a shrub?".

The plant owes some of its size to an accident early in its history here. When purchased it was a thirty inch stick with three short branches. Shortly after being planted, something happened to it: the main stem was damaged about a foot above ground and the remainder of the stem, still attached, lay on the ground. I left it there, and eventually the branches - still attached to the main stem - rooted. To this day, if you examine the trunk you can make this out.

How big is it? I haven't measured it, but it seems to be about forty feet wide across its widest dimension and perhaps twenty-five feet high, maybe more. Across its widest dimension it's mostly not very deep: the plant forms a sort of natural fan.

This is another plant with multiple seasons of interest. It blooms heavily during late July and much of August, and an occasional bloom will appear right up until hard freezes. The foliage colors spectacularly. The fragrant flowers suggest those of Paeonia japonica or P. wittmanniana even to the one slightly deformed petal which most flowers have.

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