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A monotypic genus, consisting of the one species described below, which was discovered by John Bartram and his son William Bartram in Georgia, USA, around 1765 and is now almost certainly extinct in the wild. It is allied to Gordonia, from which it differs in the deciduous leaves, almost sessile flowers, and in the curious zigzag dehiscence of the seed-capsule, which splits into ten segments attached alternately to the base and apex of the persistent central axis (or, in Bartram’s words, ‘opening at each end oppositely by five alternate fissures’). Although many authorities have included this species in Gordonia, the modern view is that William Bartram was correct in giving it the rank of a separate genus, which he named in honour of the American statesman, philosopher, and scientist Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790).
An intergeneric hybrid between F. alatamaha and Gordonia lasianthus has been raised in the USA (Bull. Amer. Ass. Bot. Gard., Vol. 11, pp. 81-4 (1977)).