193 Lagerstroemia indicaCommon Names: crape myrtle, crepe myrtle Family: Lythraceae (loosestrife Family)
The deciduous crape myrtle is among the longest blooming trees in existence with flowering periods lasting from 60-120 days. Crapes come in heights as short as 18 in (46 cm) and as tall as 40 ft (12 m). Leaves are alternate and smooth, but leaf size depends on variety. Flowers are borne in summer in big showy clusters and come in white and many shades of pink, purple, lavender and red. The fruits that follow are brown or black. When mature they dry and split releasing disk shaped seeds. Depending on variety, crapes grow as large shrubs or as trees that may be either upright or spreading. Large varieties are very fast growing and can put on several feet in a single growing season. Many types have interesting bark that exfoliates in thin flakes exposing lovely cinnamon or gray inner bark. Crapes tend to produce many suckers that should be removed as they appear if you want to maintain them as trees with distinct trunks. They are enthusiastic reseeders so you may find yourself pulling up baby crapes throughout the summer.
Many of our most popular crapes myrtle varieties available for sale these days are hybrids obtained by crossing Lagerstroemia indica with L. fauriei or L. speciosa. The U.S. National Arboretum created a series of these hybrids known as the Indian Tribe group. These are noted for mildew resistance and improved hardiness and are named for native American tribes. 'Cherokee' is a shrubby variety with a loose open form and red flowers. 'Tuskegee' has a spreading form with dark pink flowers. 'Miami' blooms later in the season and also has dark pink flowers. 'Seminole, another later bloomer, has blossoms of medium pink. 'Tuscarora' is a rampant grower with orangy pink blooms, 'Potomac' is pink and 'Tonto' is very dark pink - and so on through an extensive palette. Choose plants in summer while they are blooming so you can pick just the shade of color that you are looking for.
The common name of this plant is crape myrtle not crepe myrtle. It is called this because the flowers have crinkly petals that resemble the material called crepe (which according to Webster is a "light crinkled fabric woven of any of various fibers") but many references tell us that you're supposed to spell it crape when it's in front of myrtle. Confused? I think somebody was full of crape when they came up with this name! At any rate, it's a common name and since there's no authority that manages common names for plants you can spell (or call it) whatever you like!
Originally from Asia, crape myrtle has been naturalized throughout the United States as far north as Massachusetts, where it grows as an herbaceous perennial. First introduced to England and the United States in the eighteenth century, crape myrtle is now widely cultivated throughout the world.
CultureCrape myrtle likes moist soil, where it will grow exceedingly fast, but it tolerates dry conditions once established. It has been standard practice to cut trees back to large branches or even the trunk in winter. This distorts the appearance of the tree tremendously. Such massacre results in thin, arching stems and completely destroys the architectural beauty of the free growing crape myrtle. Pruning is recommended only to remove overly dense branches and crossing limbs. Cutting off old flower heads in summer can promote a second and third round of flowering, though. Over fertilizing creates abundant foliage at the expense of blooms. Crape myrtles are a magnet for aphids, upon whose excrement sooty mold grows. This can give the leaves a gray, sooty coating that is not harmful, but is unsightly. Control aphids with a soapy water solution. (Crapes are actually used around commercial nurseries to attract aphids away from other plants!) Light: Good sun. Moisture: Moist, well drained soil. Hardiness: USDA Zones 7 - 9. In general, trees are extremely vigorous and hardy. Newer varieties are extending the range - check with your local garden center for crapes that survive in colder zones. Propagation: By cuttings from medium wood in early fall or hard wood in winter. Also by seed. Easy to root.
Crape myrtles have been planted along highways in the southern United States for generations. They are becoming more widely used in urban areas, especially as new varieties have been developed for smaller size and disease resistance. A single crape is a magnificent specimen in the middle of a lawn. Multiple crapes, especially of the same color but different heights, can be quite effective. A cluster of crapes planted close together can provide a flowering canopy in summer and a study in texture during winter months.
The crape myrtle is an outstanding ornamental that rewards with a long blooming season of showy flowers and a winter season of dramatic architectural beauty highlighted by distinctive exfoliating bark.
Colorful dwarf "myrtlettes" are bushy plants that will grow 3 to 4 feet. They are quickly gaining popularity as a great way to add nonstop color to small spaces and container gardens. Myrtlettes are an especially good choice for hot sunny balconies. Purchase plants or grow from seed (if started indoors in late winter they'll be blooming by midsummer). The 'Petit' group of cultivars is also available in a number of colors but grows slightly larger to 8 feet in height.
So when you are looking for easy summertime color, whether in tree, shrub or groundcover form, consider the versatile, brilliant, easy and inexpensive crape myrtles.
Steve Christman 06/13/97; updated 08/07/00, 06/15/01, 06/17/01, 07/17/03, 08/23/03