Skip to main content


First off, I know that many people who regularly scan this blog will be up at Midwest Birding Symposium this weekend. I look forward to seeing everyone. My talk is Saturday at 2 pm in Hoover Auditorium, and is entitled Birders Going Beyond Birds. I've had a lot of fun putting that together, and weaving together a tale of things great and small, birds, people, conservation, and how the pieces interconnect. It'll have a lot of the elements that you see in this blog.

Gary Meszaros kindly sent along this gorgeous photo of one of the oddest and most storied plants in the eastern United States. Read on...

Photo: Gary Meszaros

During a recent trip to a botanical garden, Gary snapped this beautiful image of Franklinia alatamaha, or just Franklinia, for short. It is a captivating plant, with showy, pleasantly aromatic flowers that bloom in fall. The foliage turns to a bright crimson about now, often forming a striking backdrop to the snowy blossoms. Franklinia belongs to the small (in North America)  tea family (Theaceae). The genus name honors one of America's greats, Benjamin Franklin.

Today, Franklinia only exists in cultivation. It was first discovered in 1765 in Georgia, along the banks of the Alatamaha River in Georgia by the legendary Philadelphia botanists John and William Bartram. They must have had fits upon first seeing this beautiful treelet in its full glory. The Bartrams had traveled far and wide in the east, and made numerous collections. They knew instantly that the plant which came to be known as Franklinia was new.

In spite of intensive searching, neither the Bartrams nor anyone else was able to find Franklinia beyond the tiny area in which it was first discovered. On later trips, William Bartram harvested seed, and by the early 1780's had managed to grow plants to maturity. The last indisputable observation of Franklinia in its wild haunts was in 1803. For reasons unknown, this stunning species slipped over the brink and vanished from the wild just a scant 38 years after its initial discovery. At the time of his initial discovery, Bartram recorded this about the plant: "at this place there are two or 3 acres of ground where it grows plentifully."

The demise of wild Franklinia may always remain a mystery, but fortunately it lives on in cultivation, thanks to Bartram's collection and propagation of seeds. When we see a Franklinia tree, such as in Gary's photo, it is a direct descendent of the material brought to Philadelphia from the banks of the Alatamaha by William Bartram well over 200 years ago.


Jana said…
I saw them blooming at Bartram's Garden in Philadelphia a few years ago. They are stunning.

There was a postage stamp that featured it.

Popular posts from this blog

The Pinching Beetle, a rather brutish looking bug

The world is awash in beetles, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Few of them can match the intimidation factor of a Pinching Beetle, Lucanus capreolus, though. Those formidable looking mandibles look like they could slice off a finger.

Today was one of those coolly diverse days. I started off down in Fayette County, visiting the farm of a friend. He has restored about 25 acres of wetlands, and the response by the animal community has been nothing short of phenomenal. Blizzards of dragonflies of many species, amphibians galore, and nesting Blue-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebe, and Sora. Among MANY other things. And all in a short two years. Add water and they will come.

Then, working my way home, I ducked into a Madison County cemetery that has a thriving population of Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels, and shot images of our native prairie dog. Then, I stopped at a spot along Little Darby Creek, waded on in, and procured some pretty nice shots of various stream bluets and dancers. …

Calliope Hummingbird in central Ohio!

A hatch-year male Calliope Hummingbird strikes a pose. Small but tough, the hummingbird was feeding actively yesterday in 39 F temperatures. It frequents feeders and gardens at a home in Delaware County, Ohio, about a half-hour north of Columbus.

Fortunately, the wayward hummer appeared at the home of Tania and Corey Perry. Tania is a birder, and knew right away that the hummingbird was something special. For a while, the identification was up in the air, which isn't surprising. The Calliope Hummingbird used to be placed in its own genus, Stellula, but has recently been submerged into the genus Selasphorus, which includes Allen's, Broad-tailed, and Rufous hummingbirds. The latter two, especially, are quite similar to the Calliope in subadult plumage. Rufous is the default "vagrant" hummingbird here, with dozens of records and birds turning up annually. There is but one Ohio record of Allen's Hummingbird, from late fall/early winter 2009. Ditto the Calliope Hummi…

Snowy owl photography tactics - and things NOT to do

A gorgeous juvenile female snowy owl briefly catches your narrator with its piercing gaze. It's doing its Linda Blair/Exorcist trick - twisting its head 180 degrees to look straight behind. Owls have 14 neck vertebrae - double our number - which allows them such flexibility.

These visitors from the high arctic have irrupted big time into Ohio and adjacent regions, with new birds coming to light nearly every day. Probably 80 or so have thus far been reported in the state, and some of them have stuck around favored spots and become local celebrities.

I went to visit one of these birds this morning - the animal above, which was found last Friday by Doug Overacker and Julie Karlson at C.J. Brown Reservoir near Springfield. In the four days since its discovery, many people have visited as is nearly always the case when one of these white wonders appears near a large population center or is otherwise very accessible.

And as is always the case, people want to photograph the owls. And th…