Botanic Garden and Natural Lands

America’s oldest preserved botanic garden is still growing.

​The 50 acres of Bartram’s Garden change every day and in each season.

A variety of ecosystems thrive within this landscape, representing a range of historic, botanic, and cultural forces. Our landscape is based on natural ecosystems, the Bartram family’s letters and books, archaeological and geological evidence of how the land and river have changed and been used for millennia, and knowledge gained from Indigenous First Nations of North America.

Learn from the Botanic Garden

Bloom Calendar

See what’s blooming now.

Tree Map

Find your favorite tree.

Bird Sightings

Look up! What birds have you seen?

Many museums collect objects.
Our collections are alive and growing.

Botanic Garden

The 14-acre Botanic Garden is a collection of plant species collected, grown, and studied by the Bartram family from 1728−1850. The Bartrams focused on native plants of eastern North America, although a wide range of imported exotic plants were also under cultivation in each generation. They made great efforts to observe and record details of relationships within the plants’ original habitats, sometimes but not always noting ethnobotanical relationships.

The layout and plant collections draw from historical records of the garden from the 1700s and 1800s, which are studied and interpreted in the spirit of the Bartram family by our gardeners. The gardens closer to the historic buildings, sometimes referred to as the Upper Garden, represent more formal display gardens, while the Lower Garden, or Wilderness Garden, reflects the plant and animal communities of the North American wilderness.

History of the Botanic Garden

Growing since 1728.

Ann Bartram Carr Garden

A fragrant pleasure garden for all seasons.

Upper Garden

Gardens for healing, household uses, and study.

Lower Garden

Wilderness-style gardens leading to the river.

Natural Lands

Stretching throughout the Garden’s 50 acres, the Natural Lands — including the Meadow, Tidal Wetlands, and woodlands along the river’s living shoreline — draw upon both ancient and contemporary techniques for growing in harmony within the natural world. These spaces provide important year-round resources for a range of native and migrating species, including humans.

Meadow

Reclaimed natural land with a view of Center City.

Boardwalk

A living shoreline on the Tidal Schuylkill River.

Cider Mill Slope

Wildflowers and birding along the river.

Notable Trees

Within the Garden’s hundreds of trees, several have particular historical and cultural significance.

Franklinia or Franklin Tree

Franklinia alatamaha

The Garden’s signature tree was observed by John and William Bartram in 1765 in a small grove along the Altamaha River in what is now known as southern Georgia, on the land of the Muscogee Nation. In 1777, William Bartram transported seeds back to Philadelphia for cultivation and named the plant Franklinia in honor of his father’s close friend Benjamin Franklin. The plant has not been found in the wild since the early 19th century, but continued cultivation by the Bartrams and by many other nurseries has kept the Franklinia in the landscape. All current Franklinia are descended from those originally grown by the Bartrams, including numerous specimens within Bartram’s Garden and those for sale in our nursery.

A member of the tea family, the Franklinia is notable for its large, fragrant white flowers in late summer. The plant’s deciduous leaves often begin turning vibrant shades of red and orange even while the Franklinia is blooming, making for a striking contrast. 

Learn more about the history of the Franklinia.

Ginkgo

Ginkgo biloba

This male tree is believed to be North America’s oldest living ginkgo, or maidenhair, tree. It was one of three original ginkgo trees sent to the U.S. from London in 1785 by William Hamilton of The Woodlands in West Philadelphia. Hamilton gave one ginkgo tree to William Bartram and planted two in the landscape garden at The Woodlands. The trees at the Woodlands were cut down in the 1980s, but the tree at Bartram’s Garden continues to thrive.

Yellowwood

Cladrastis kentukia

One of the Garden’s oldest trees is the Yellowwood, which has reigned over the Kitchen Garden for more than 200 years. The species was observed in central Tennessee by the French plant explorer Andre Michaux in 1796, who sent this specimen to William Bartram in the early 1800s. The historic tree was badly damaged during a wind storm in 2010, but it is recovering well and continues to grow and bloom, and another beautiful Yellowwood is located near the Ginkgo. Look for the Yellowwood’s long tendrils of tiny, white, sweet-smelling blossoms in late spring.

Pawpaw Grove

Asimina triloba

Bartram’s Garden is home to two colonies of pawpaws (Asimina triloba), an ancient, native North American fruit tree found in the dappled shade near taller trees across most of the eastern half of the United States. Over time, these trees have formed colonies by sending out suckering roots genetically identical to the parent tree.

Look for the thin, droopy branches and teardrop-shaped, tropical-looking leaves, which shroud the large, fragile fruit — in fact, pawpaws are North America’s largest edible fruit, with a sweet, funky taste. Between March and May, just as the trees begin to leaf out, the pawpaw’s maroon, bell-shaped flower will emerge. Each flower is capable of producing several fruits, but they’ll need to be pollinated first. In order to set fruit, pawpaws need to be cross-pollinated by a genetically different tree or colony, which is why we have two colonies.

Not only do they provide fruit, but pawpaws are also a host plant for the zebra swallowtail caterpillar. These caterpillars like to munch solely on pawpaw leaves, which results in the caterpillars tasting very unpleasant for hungry birds.

Bald Cypress

Taxodium distichum

This large deciduous conifer is common in wet or swampy areas. You can find several in the Wilderness Garden and as you walk towards the riverfront on the Boardwalk, including some by the Boardwalk with the species’ distinctive “knees” poking out of the soil.

In 1792, while sending planting instructions to George Washington to accompany a nursery order for Mount Vernon, William Bartram described the bald cypress as a tree of “stature majestic, foliage most delicate, wood of a fine yellow colour, odoriferous & incorruptible.”

Most notable in the Wilderness Garden is a Bald Cypress that is no longer present on site, though another was planted in its place. The earlier bald cypress was said to have been grown from a small sapling first planted by John Bartram, eventually reaching 150 feet tall and seven feet in diameter. It was felled by a storm in 1920.

Bartram Oak

Quercus x heterophylla

John Bartram first observed specimens of the Bartram oak, a rare but naturally occurring hybrid of red and willow oak, on William Hamilton’s nearby estate, The Woodlands, located upriver in West Philadelphia.

Sankofa Community Farm Orchard

The Sankofa Community Farm at Bartram’s Garden hosts Philadelphia’s most diverse orchard in partnership with the Philadelphia Orchard Project. More than 130 trees grow everything from almonds to persimmons to figs.

Please respect the hard work of our farmers and youth interns and do not pick or forage without permission.

Upcoming Events

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Garden BlogGarden Insights

The Bartrams, the White Mulberry Tree, and the Story of American Silk

August 3, 2022

The Bartrams, the White Mulberry Tree, and the Story of American Silk

The Bartrams were a family of natural scientists who would happily collect and cultivate almost any plant, but they were not immune to acquiring plants that carried the allure of...

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Biking & Walking

Birds

Boating & Fishing

Flowers, Plants & Trees

Gardening

History

Kids' Activities

Sankofa Community Farm

Southwest Philadelphia

Water Quality

Workshops, Wellness & Culture

Youth Internships

I'm interested in:

Biking & Walking

Birds

Look up! More than 100 species of birds rely on this ecosystem.

Boating & Fishing

Enjoy all that the Tidal Schuylkill River has to offer.

Flowers, Plants & Trees

See what’s blooming, find a favorite tree, and stroll the gardens and natural lands.

Gardening

Bring the Garden home! Shop for plants and grow your own food.

History

Uncover the interconnected stories of this historic site.

Kids' Activities

Join us year-round to learn, make, share, and wonder.

Sankofa Community Farm

“Go back and get it!” Growing food sovereignty with an African Diaspora focus.

Southwest Philadelphia

Resources and opportunities especially for neighbors in Southwest Philly.

Water Quality

Find our latest data on the river’s bacteria levels and recent rainfall.

Workshops, Wellness & Culture

Enjoy upcoming workshops, self-care, and events. Are you a Southwest artist? Let’s partner!

Youth Internships

Calling Southwest students: paid internships available with the river, the farm, and the trees.