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Tree to 4 m (after two growing seasons). Leaves evergreen to semi-evergreen, (8–)11–14 × 2.5–4.5(–5) cm, elliptic to obovate, upper surface dark green and reticulate, lower surface pale green with some stiff bristles, 9–11 secondary veins on each side of the midrib, margins serrate to crenulate, apex short-acuminate; petiole absent. Inflorescences axillary, subracemose, to 5 cm long with one to four flowers; pedicel 0.7–1.5 cm long, pubescent. The hybrid is considerably more floriferous (10–90 flowers per shoot) than either F. alatamaha (2–4 per shoot) or S. argentea (10–15 per shoot). Flowers 4–7 cm wide, fragrant; bracteoles two, caducous, sepals five, suborbicular, ~0.5 cm diameter, petals five, white, 2–2.6 cm long, stamens numerous, bright yellow, 0.4–0.9 cm long, ovary tomentose. Fruit unknown. Ranney et al. 2003. Distribution Does not occur in the wild. The parent taxa originate in China (S. argentea) and the United States (F. alatamaha). The hybrid was originally produced at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research Station, Fletcher, North Carolina, by a team led by Prof. Tom Ranney. USDA Hardiness Zone 7 (?). Illustration Ranney et al. 2003; NT784.
This exciting intergeneric hybrid was produced by deliberate cross-pollination of the parents in 1999 and 2000. The seeds germinated well and the resultant progeny grew extremely fast, some individuals reaching 2 m and flowering within nine months of sowing. They showed characters intermediate between those of the parents (tabulated by Ranney et al. 2003, on which this account is principally based), but were much more floriferous, with several buds in each leaf axil, and with larger flowers than either parent. The plants are evergreen to semi-evergreen, and show clear indications of becoming respectably sized trees. They have yet to be widely tested, however, as there has been very limited distribution to other institutions, and no material has been made available commercially as yet. It should be expected to thrive in the southeastern United States, however, and wherever Franklinia performs well.
Previous research efforts (summarised by Ranney et al. 2003, Ranney & Fantz 2006) had attempted crosses between Franklinia and Camellia, which gave rise only to very feeble progeny, and between the American natives Franklinia and Gordonia lasianthus. In this latter case the progeny were vigorous at first but again did not live long. The Franklinia × Gordonia cross was made again in 2002, at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research Station, and seedlings from this attempt first flowered in 2004. The progeny clearly demonstrated their hybridity, being in many ways intermediate, but with recognisable parental characters as well. The leaves and flowers are generally larger than in either parent, however, and available images suggest that this is a very handsome plant. It is semi-evergreen, with older leaves turning a brilliant scarlet that ‘surpasses a Nyssa’ (T. Ranney, pers. comm. 2008). So far it has performed well, with seedlings showing good vigour, reaching heights of up to 3.5 m after two seasons of growth. Progeny of this cross have now been named ×Gordlinia grandiflora Ranney & Fantz. (A full description and comparative table are provided by Ranney & Fantz 2006; see also Plate 11 above, p. 2.) As with ×Schimlinia, it is to be expected that ×Gordlinia will perform best in areas with hot humid summers.
These successful crosses give hope of further success with the diversity of material of Asian Schima now available, and perhaps with Polyspora and Pyrenaria. Since some of these thrive better in maritime Europe than Franklinia, one can speculate on all sorts of interesting possibilities for the future.