“Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.” (Benjamin Franklin).

stamped and catalogued…

Today, I found Franklinia alatamaha, a very fitting specimen for the 4th of July.

“Discovered” in 1765 in the British Colony of Georgia, USA, by an American (William Bartram) in the pay of the British (Dr John Fothergill), the Franklin tree was – at the time – enjoying a quiet and uneventful life, which included routinely producing fragrant white flowers with the beauty of Camellia and the scent of Honeysuckle. The Franklinia had no name – except perhaps an Indian title lost through the  nineteenth century haze. It was a delicate creature, not keen on travel and fussy where it put down roots.

Alas, the days of liberty were passing in the West…

By 1773, when Bostonians were brewing tea in their harbour, it was being hunted across the American South.

By 1777, as British and Americans battled across the North East, its seeds had been collected.

By 1781 it had been bred in captivity, while the US articles of “Confederation and Perpetual Union” were being ratified.

By 1785 it had been catalogued in the Arbustrum Americanum. The newly independent Americans were busy signing the Treaty of Hopewell with the Cherokee, which laid out a Western boundary for white settlement…

And by 1803, when Jefferson successfully purchased “Louisiana” (actually 828,000 square miles stretching all the way to Canada) for 3 cents an acre, less than 40 years after the Franklin tree first drew attention, it had ceased to exist in the wild.

Those twin collosi of nineteenth century progress – industry and organisation – were stirring. In the Southern US their agents, cotton and specimen collectors, were laboring towards a brave new world.

“saved from extinction”

Today, every franklinia tree in existence is a direct descendent from seeds cultivated by William Bartram and his father, John.

A census in 1998 identified 2,000 specimens in  38 US states and in 8 other countries. Bartram’s Garden, in Philadelphia -  is one such detention centre.