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10 Plants Lost to History


7
Franklin Tree
Strangely, the Franklin tree's flowers looked nothing like a kite. DeAgostini/Getty Images
Strangely, the Franklin tree's flowers looked nothing like a kite. DeAgostini/Getty Images

Botanist John Bartram and his son William were traveling through Georgia in 1765 when they discovered a beautiful shrub with fragrant white flowers along the banks of the Altamaha River. They named it the Franklin tree after their buddy, founding father and kite enthusiast Benjamin Franklin. After a return trip in the 1770s, William noticed that the tree grew only on a couple of acres by the river and nowhere else. Either concerned about its survival or charmed by its beauty (or both), William took some plants and seeds home with him to Pennsylvania. We're lucky he did, because the last confirmed sighting of a Franklin tree happened just a few decades later in 1803.

Today, the Franklin tree is extinct in the wild, but, thanks to William's specimens, it's not quite lost to history. Franklinia alatamaha has become a popular landscaping plant, which isn't surprising given its unique beauty. About as wide as it is tall (about 15 feet [4.6 meters]), this small tree boasts 3-inch (7.6-centimeter) white flowers with a cluster of bright yellow stamens that bloom from late summer until the first frost. In fall the dark green leaves seem to catch fire, turning brilliant shades of red, orange or pink. It's become so beloved that it represented the South on a 1969 U.S. postage stamp.

But will the Franklin tree ever return to the wild? There are efforts to replant the trees in the area where William found it some 250 years ago — so we'll see! [source: Merkle]