If you go down to the woods today.... you might find an "extinct" tree. Presumed extinct in the wild, that is, as it has only been seen in gardens since 1803. The plant in question is Franklinia alatamaha and we have two flowering well, with gorgeous autumn leaf colour, in the woody Wild Garden. We have has just collected our first flowering specimen for the RHS Herbarium
This rarely seen tree usually needs warm long summers to flower well. But according to Billy McCutcheon, who looks after the Wild Garden, the two small trees at Wisley flower regularly, and along with its good autumn colour, it is a plant that should be better known. .
Franklinia alatamaha was first discovered in 1765 by John and William Bartram along the Altamaha (then named Alatamaha) River in Georgia, USA. They later collected seeds and grew it in their garden in Philadelphia, where it was named in 1785 after Benjamin Franklin. It was last seen in the wild in 1803 but the plants in the Bertram’s garden survived and it is believed that all plants in cultivation today descended from those raised there.
To find it at Wisley, walk along the path at the bottom of the Alpine Meadow (past the sea of blue autumn-flowering crocus) to the bottom of the Rock Garden, cross a little bridge into the Wild Garden, and turn left to the seat mound that overlooks the Rock Garden. You'll know when you get there - the flowers are white, the leaves turning red, and there's a piece of interpretation to highlight this unusual little tree.