Yesterday, I had a hunch I might see the very first flower of the season on the Franklin trees at the Arnold Arboretum. So off I went to the Explorers Garden on Bussey Hill, where two of the largest Franklinia plants in North America reside (2428-3*A and 2428-3*B, accessioned in 1905). With temperatures approaching 90°F and a gentle summer breeze, the Arboretum was largely devoid of humans―not that the plants mind at all. Our two specimens are packed with thousands of beautiful large flower buds, and (there it was!) a single south-facing open flower (upper photo).

The showy (understatement) flowers of Franklinia alatamaha are magnificent, with dozens of bright yellow stamens that bees love to dive into (lower left), and subtle white petals with crenulate margins (lower right). The fruits take more than a year to develop from flowers, and a close examination of these plants will reveal the crop from last year, just nearing maturity.

Sadly, the Franklin tree (so named in honor of Benjamin Franklin) is extinct in the wild. Franklinia, a member of the tea family (Theaceae), was first described by the father and son colonial plant explorers John and William Bartram in 1765 (on the Altamaha River in Georgia) and was last seen in the wild in 1803. Had this species not been brought into cultivation through the efforts of intrepid plant explorers and botanical gardens, it would have disappeared from the face of the earth some two centuries ago, without a trace. To read more about the Arnold Arboretum’s strongly reinvigorated mission to collect, conserve, and study, click here.