Franklinia Today Part 2: Beth’s Travels on the Bartram Trail 61

Take a moment, take a breath, take 46 seconds to listen…

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Don't Squeeze Peaches by Beth Thompson

Don’t Squeeze Peaches by Beth Thompson

Beside a piece of Americana, outside of Clayton, GA, there’s this other amazing piece of Americana, but not the type we all think about. Nope, this is the real deal, the only in America, the can’t see it, can’t get it anywhere else sort of thing.

Look around you…

But first, you have to turn your back on the retail extravaganza, clammer down a steep slope, and walk across a mountain stream. As the path leads you past cardinal flowers in blossom, vibrant red, and deeper into a wooded area, look around you.  You might see a tree with the biggest leaves ever, creating a sort of silvery green umbrella overhead. That would be big-leaf magnolia.

Big Leaf Magnolia by Beth Thompson

Big Leaf Magnolia by Beth Thompson

You might see a magnolia-like seed pod, only in the most vibrant magenta with hints of green, surrounded by dark green leaves. That would be the Frazier Magnolia, called Mountain Magnolia by William Bartram.

Frazier Magnolia (Bartram's Mountain Magnolia) by Beth Thompson

Frazier Magnolia (Bartram’s Mountain Magnolia) by Beth Thompson

What do you see?

Finally, if you are extremely lucky, you round a corner and come upon massive white blossoms, with yellow pistils and stamen. There’s a bumblebee happily tumbling around in pollen. The flower has only 5 petals, and hasn’t bloomed in the wild like this in 100’s of years, at least not here, not in its native state, Georgia. And even still, it it miles and miles from the river which gave it its name. The flower belongs to the Franklinia alatmaha Tree, discovered by John Bartram some 250 years ago, and whose seeds he sent his son, William, to collect, thus they ensured its survival at the Bartram Gardens in Philadelphia.

Franklinia Blossom by Beth Thompson

Franklinia Blossom by Beth Thompson

Beautiful specimens, rare organisms…

As I watched the tree in its glory with Heather Gladfelter, the scientist who is exploring the tree and led me to these beautiful specimens this day, another rare organism arrived. The Monarch butterfly came to drink the sweetness of the Franklin Tree, and in return, pollinate. What does the Monarch think I wonder?  Is there some ancestral memory embedded into its genetics, so that it goes, ahhh, a Franklinia, my species hasn’t imbibed from this tree in 100’s of years, yet I somehow know the sweetness of your nectar? Is the bumblebee overwhelmed with joy to see this old friend of its species blooming in the Southeast once again?

Franklinia Blossom Sunlit by Beth Thompson

Franklinia Blossom Sunlit by Beth Thompson

Both rare and bountiful…

I keep my camera trained on the tree, blossoms with bees, ants, and butterflies in ecstasy. The Franklinia is at once a testament to terminal uniqueness and nature’s bounty. Heather collects only 3 seed pods from one tree, as this equals 150 seeds and hours worth of work in the lab. Yet there are many trees growing here, each with lots and lots of seed pods. Nature’s bounty indeed.

Heather Collects 3 Seed Pods by Beth Thompson

Heather Collects 3 Seed Pods by Beth Thompson

Survive and thrive…

Yet the surviving Franklinia trees may not have enough genetic diversity to resist phytothera, the water mold in the soil that’s killed them off in the Southeast. Unlike my species, which is on the verge of overpopulating the planet, Franklinia alatmaha may be terminally unique. Yet it survives and thrives, blossoms and is pollinated in turn, makes more fruit than a single human can study.

Franklinia Blossom Against the Sky by Beth Thompson

Franklinia Blossom Against the Sky by Beth Thompson

So who am I to feel as if I am terminally unique?

Franklinia Blossom Possible Perception by Beth Thompson

Franklinia Blossom Possible Perception by Beth Thompson

I am blessed in that I actually have a community of people who get me. There are lots of other humans on this earth that I can connect to. My kind isn’t in danger of going extinct due to limited genetic diversity in the human gene pool.

Franklinia Blossom Sunlit by Beth Thompson

Franklinia Blossom Sunlit by Beth Thompson

Yet I cannot help but feel that a world without the Franklinia alatmaha would be a more fragile world, one I would feel more vulnerable in. Is my fate linked in some way to the survivial of the Franklin Tree? Is humanity’s?

Franklinia Blossom Sky by Beth Thompson

Franklinia Blossom Sky by Beth Thompson

*Opening of recording from “The Slacks” by Trip Shakespeare, audio quote from Martha Graham.

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