Crepe Myrtle Trees: A Tree For All Seasons

Crepe myrtle trees make for an outstanding ornamental tree in any landscape.

| July/August 2014

Americans savor an abiding love affair with trees. Favorites produce showy flowers that herald each spring with massive displays on leafless branches — think dogwood, red bud, flowering cherry, and fruit trees. But while a spring gallery of rooted bouquets is undeniably sublime, it is short-lived. It seems as though in Mother Nature’s fervor to replenish her bounty, flower petals quickly fade and fall, only to be replaced with a ubiquitous wash of greenery.

Not so with crepe myrtle trees (also spelled crape). Technically, the crepe myrtle is a small, upright deciduous tree that hails from the warm regions of each variety’s respective geographical homes — for example, Lagerstroemia indica is native to Southeast Asia, and L. fauriei is native to Japan. Although they do not carry the same storybook aura as, say, the Japanese flowering cherries, Lagerstroemia still puts on a stunning show year-round.

Soaking up the sun

When they blossom, crepe myrtles are not a breakout, flash-in-the-pan showstopper. Rather, they retain their beauty throughout the blooming season and remain exuberant throughout most of the summer. It is this time of year when the crepe myrtle bears witness to the warm weather, long days, and vacation time that combine to allow for our unfettered enjoyment of outdoor fun. The peak blooming period for crepe myrtles often coincides with Independence Day.

Flowers begin blooming with rapid succession in numbers upwards of 300 flowers into dense pyramid-shaped clusters called panicles — a kind of inflorescence. Much like fluffy cotton candy on a cone, these panicles perch at the end of every new sprig.

The overall appearance is that of an intricate pinwheel about 1-1/2 inches in diameter. This is a result of a whorl of small, outer sepals, stalked petals, two sets of stamens (male), and a central female pistil. Surprisingly, the flowers have no noticeable fragrance, although a few cultivars do waft a mild lemony scent. Be that as it may, the flowers remain irresistible to honeybees — their chief pollinators.

In the height of summer growth, the trees’ paper-thin bark peels off in long strips to reveal a fresh, velvet-smooth, neutral-toned skin tinged with pink, cinnamon and mahogany. The combination of floral and trunk decadency is a display that brightens any landscape.

9/2/2014 10:23:46 PM

Every yard around here has crepe myrtles. It may just be in this area, but I have never seen honeybees on a crepe myrtle or butterflies either. They are beautiful trees and really do well in our 100 degree heat, but other than that, not much use; no fragrance, no fruit for birds or other wildlife, not even any fragrance. They do attract aphids.

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