This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V23", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
In your notice of Gordonia pubescens in August number, is this paragraph: " We believe this plant has never been found since its original discovery by Wm. Bar tram."
The tree was first discovered at old Fort Barrington on the Altamaha, some 16 miles from Darien, about the year 1765, by John Bartram, whilst on his travels through the Carolinas and Florida. In April, 1773, Wm. Bartram, his son, started from Philadelphia on a tour through the same region, in the interest of Dr. Fothergill of London. He proceeded South leisurely, and sometime in the summer, reached Fort Barring-ton. He says:
"I set off early in the morning (from Darien) for the Indian trading-house on the river St. Mary, and took the road up the northeast side of the Altamaha to Fort Barrington. I passed through a well inhabited district, mostly rice plantations on the waters of Cat Head Creek, a branch of the Altamaha. On drawing near the Fort, I was delighted at the appearance of two beautiful shrubs in all their blooming graces. One of them appeared to be a species of Gor-donia, but the flowers are larger and more fragrant than those of Gordonia lasianthus."
In 1778, at the close of his travels, (which extended as far West as the Mississippi river,) he returned to Fort Barrington, to collect up seeds and plants which he had previously seen. He says: " I found two or three acres with this tree;" and that he had seen it some twelve years before when he traveled with his father. It was probably in sight from the road, and having seen it before he knew just where to look for it.
In Darlington's "Memorials of Bartram and Marshall," page 563, is a letter from Dr. Moses Marshall (nephew of Humphrey Marshall) to Sir Joseph Banks, dated Philadelphia, October i 1790, in which he says: " In May last I set out on a botanic tour, etc., etc. Then crossing the high and great chain of mountains, came upon the head waters of Santee in South Carolina, | thence by Ninety-six to Augusta and to Savannah town, and continuing southwest to the Al- tamaha in Georgia. I here found the Franklinia or Gordonia sessiles, better called."
This, as far as I can learn, is the last time on record of it3 having been seen in the uncultivated state by any botanist. Seeds were collected by the Bartrams and distributed in this country and in Europe, and the trees from these seeds are all that we have left of the original discovery.
In Torry & Gray's North American Flora, Florida is quoted as a habitat on the authority of Hev-larien of Schweinitz. Whether the locality is well authenticated or not, I have no means of knowing.
I made a visit in March last to the Altamaha in search of this tree, but failed to find it. It way an unfavorable season of the year for the search for an unknown tree, as the leaves (it is deciduous and not evergreen like its congener G. lasianthus) had not yet expanded, and the old capsules had fallen to the ground - so that, without leaf, flower, or capsule, there was really no means of identifying it, even if it was there, among the many other deciduous trees. I travelled the old road from Darien to Fort Barrington, and passed, as Wm. Bartram states, the rice plantations on the waters of Cat Head Creek. From inquiries among the people of the neighborhood, I learned that the same road exists from Darien to the Fort as it was one hundred years ago. After passing the rice fields on Cat Head Creek, the road runs through many miles of flat damp pine woods to within two or three miles of the Fort, where there is a succession of poor sand ridges up to the Fort. Among these sand hills are many narrow " pine land branches," with black peat soil - and occasionally " flats " of several acres in extent in the woods, where the common sedge grasses and some trees are seen. It is along these narrow pine land branches and the flats, that the tree is to be looked for.
I saw Gordonia lasianthus, Pinckneya pubens, Cyrilla and one or two species of Nyssa here, with abundance of scarce Palmetto bordering the branches. A friend who accompanied me on the ride to the Fort, promised to look again later in the season. He went up in June and made thorough search along the branches and flats in the pine woods, but was unable to find it. We hope yet to be able to find it later in the season.
The Fort was built originally as one of the frontier outposts for the protection of the Oglethorpe colonists against the Indians and the Spaniards of Florida. The river here bluffs on the North side - and the river swamp is wholly on the South side. There is nothing more to mark the site of the old Fort but the ditch and embankment which surrounded it - and a small negro shanty in which the ferryman lives. It is still used as one of the river crossings of the Altamaha for that region of the country.
The rediscovery of this tree in its native wilds, and some knowledge of its geographical range is very desirable, not only in the interests of science on account of its extreme rarity and very circumscribed habitat, but also towards completing a perfect suit of wood specimens of the trees of the United States now under trial for their economic value, by the Forestry Department of the tenth census - and also for the American Museum of Natural History in New York - for both of which my visit to the Altamaha was made in March. Should any of your readers know anything of it, they would confer a favor by communicating with me.