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Botanist's Lens: Fragrant Jewels in the Gardens at London Town

London Town’s gardens have an excellent collection of specimen trees and shrubs, some happen to be exquisitely fragrant. I will be sharing with you today two of the many jewels that might easily go unnoticed to the untrained eyes. The first one is Franklinia alatamaha.

"Franklinia is a monotypic genus in the tea plant family, Theaceae. The sole species in this genus is a flowering tree, Franklinia alatamaha, commonly called the Franklin tree, and native to the Altamaha River valley in Georgia in the southeastern United States. It has been extinct in the wild since the early 19th century, but survives as a cultivated ornamental tree" (Source) It was named by the famous botanist, John Bartram.

"John Bartram was appointed Royal Botanist for North America by King George III in 1765. In that same year, John Bartram and his son William discovered franklinia growing in a 2-3 acre tract along the banks of the Altamaha River in southeastern Georgia." (Source)

Yes, it is the same John Bartram who is mentioned on one of the interpretive signs in the exhibit area in the visitor center at London Town (read more in the picture). One more reason that Franklinia is special is that William Bartram named the Franklinia tree after Benjamin Franklin, also one of his father’s friend.

Franklinia alatamaha, being a monotypic genus, is also good enough to make this plant special. But it is the Camellia-like cream colored, cup shaped fragrant flower, the bright fall color and its extinction from the wild, that make this a very sought after understory plant. Pictured up top is the newest member of the garden, a Franklin tree blooming in its first year. Thanks to Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust for a grant that allows us to rebuild a lost collection of specimen trees and shrubs.

Let’s now look at another fragrant shrub that is otherwise hard to grow in Zone 7 but is thriving at London Town, Clerodenron trichotumum. "The flowers have an airy, sweetly delicate grace and are large enough to make an eye-catching show. The red calyx persists as the fruit develop into small bright blue berries making a very colorful combination". (Source).

It is also commonly called as the "peanut butter tree" because when the leaves are crushed, they smell like peanut butter. Most decadent though is the smell of the flowers, which are similar in shape and fragrance to a Jasmine flower.

I distinctly remember collecting Clerodendrum inerme flowers from my grandfather’s garden hedge. C. inerme grows profusely in India and is salt tolerant. Clerodendrums hold a special place in my memory because of the fragrance of the flowers I gathered as a child.

Odor evoked memory is another beautiful way to connect with nature. As they say, always stop and smell the flowers!

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