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William Bartram and Franklinia alatamaha

The beauty of the Altamaha River greatly impressed William Bartram, who wrote at length about his natural discoveries in the region. His descriptions of the Southeastern United States in Bartram’s Travels became an instant classic and inspired writers and poets Carlyle, Emerson, and Coleridge, who used some of Bartram’s imagery in his poems about Kubla Khan and the Ancient Mariner.

Bartram’s most famous discovery was the “lost Gordonia,” or Franklinia alatamaha: “I sat off early in the morning for the indian trading-house in the river St. Mary, and took the road up the N.E. side of the Alatamaha to Fort Barrington. I passed through a well-inhabited district, mostly rice plantations, on the waters of Cat-head creek, a branch of the Alatamaha. On drawing near the fort, I was greatly delighted at the appearance of two new beautiful shrubs, in all their blooming graces. One of them appeared to be a species of Gordonia, but the flowers are larger, and more fragrant than those of the Gordonia Lascanthus, and are sessile; the seed vessel is also very different.” The plant has become so famous that the State of Georgia named a state park for one of its names, Gordonia Alatamaha State Park, near Reidsville (phone 557-6444). A Franklinia has never been found here, but a portion of the park consists of the sandhill environment believed favored by the tree, as well as its close relative, the flowering loblolly bay.

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