Tea Mounain gordlinia is a cross between the
Franklinia alatamaha and the Gordonia lasianthus
years ago, I wrote about a small tree called Sweet Tea
Mountain Gordlinia that was catching the eye of the
industry. After watching it two more growing seasons, I
am even more mesmerized by its elegant form and
structure, its long period of bloom that culminates in
stunning fall and winter color.
of my experience in growing it was as Director of the
Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens in Savannah Georgia.
There this tree won the hearts of both employees and
visitors. Now that I am in the hills (mountains to me)
of West Georgia I am putting not one but three Sweet Tea
Mountain Gordlinias on my landscape wish list. I can
already picture the 5-inch wide white flowers glistening
on the hillside overlooking Little Palmetto Creek.
everything about this tree is amazing, its attributes,
its history and then the science in its creation. The
credit for this beautiful and rare hybrid goes to North
Carolina State University Mountain Crops Improvement Lab
who did an incredible cross in 2002.
speaking it is xGordlinia grandiflora "Sweet Tea’.
That would be confusing to most gardeners. But what this
means is this was a rare intergeneric cross by North
Carolina State between two tea or camellia relatives,
Franklinia alatamaha and Gordonia lasianthus.
remember at Texas A & M I was taught in two separate
classes, Nut Culture, and then in Plant Propagation that
you could cross between species but it was next to
impossible to cross two different genera. So, when the
NC State Mountain Crops Improvement Lab made this cross,
the impossible was conceived.
consider this, at the time there were no other
Franklinias and no other Gordonias. These were
classified as monotypic, one type or representative
within the genus. Now perhaps you are saying to yourself
that indeed is pretty rare, and you would be right. When
it comes to the Franklinia however it goes one step
further on the rarity scale in that the plants are
extinct in the wild.
and his son William Bartram, famous explorers and early
American naturalists discovered the Franklinia
atlatamaha in 1765 growing wild along the Altamaha River
in Georgia. William carefully documented it through his
writing and paintings. He collected seeds on return
trips, but by 1790 the native had totally disappeared.
all growing Franklinias, aka Franklin trees, are from
the same genetics of the seeds he collected on his
journey while the U.S. was still the colonies. Oh yes,
they are named after non-other than Ben Franklin a good
friend of the Bartrams.
Gordonia, called loblolly bay, on the other hand, is
still thriving in the Southeast. We had one about
30-feet tall at the gardens in Savannah that bloomed
with 2- to 3-inch white fragrant camellia-like flowers,
in comparison Sweet Tea’s flowers are enormous
reaching 5-inches with brilliant gold stamens.
Tea Mountain gordlinia is cold hardy from zones 7
through 10 and is expected to reach around 20-30 feet a
maturity with a spread of 10 to 15-feet. In other words,
this is just the right size for today’s smaller urban
landscape. It is semi-evergreen, performing best in full
sun with a little afternoon shade, the soil should be
moist, fertile and well drained. Amazingly the tree
colors up in shades of burgundy and orange during the
fall and winter.
Tea Mountain Gordlinia is rare in beauty, science, and
history. You’ll find it as part of the Southern Living
Plant Collection. It would be perfect for your families
Arbor Day Celebration April 27.