The wonderful flowering myrtle plant can grow into a bush, a shrub (hedge) or a tree and can produce a kaleidoscope palette of colors, Red, White, Pink, Purple, Lavender, Orange-Pink, bicolor and many varying color blends in between. Enormous clusters of brilliant or pastel hues of Crape Myrtle flowers begin to unfold in June, and the crepe-like globes enlarge into puffy textured clouds of white, pastel, or glowing pink and red vibrating colors. The flowering period for cultivars of Crape Myrtle is much longer than most flowering trees- lasting from 60 to 120 days for most hybrids, and reblooming can be forced by breaking off flower stems that have folded and a rebloom can be induced two or three times.
The Crape Myrtle flowers emerge from a green capsule that turns brown, and then black once flowering ends, and seeds that are winged crescents that float to the ground where they sprout to form new plants. The Crape Myrtle tree is fast growing in the larger tree form and can grow 6 feet in a single growing season into a tough plant with great drought tolerance that flowers profusely when planted in full sun in a well drained soil. Most Crape Myrtle tree buyers prefer to buy a tree with several trunks, however, some cultivars form single trunks, when the sprouts are removed from the plant at an early stage. The growth tends to be upright and spreading or with a rounded canopy, but in some Crape Myrtle cultivars, such as the Natchez and Acoma, the limbs weep downwards from the weight of the flower clusters.
Many Crape Myrtle cultivars have very attractive peeling bark that is called, "exfoliating bark", Crape Myrtle bark that peels off to reveal bright colored under-bark that is similar to the peeling bark of the River Birch Tree. Crape Myrtle interest was greatly increased when Dr. Don Egolf of the USDA National Arboretum began crossing various species of Crape Myrtle plants into improved hybrid trees that greatly increased the period of flowering that lasts throughout the summer. Also, the hybrid Crape Myrtle hybrids blended the characteristics of the Japanese Crape Myrtle tree, Lagerstroemia faurei, that showed great cold resistance with the common imported Crape Myrtle plant from India, Lagerstroemia indica.
These new hybrids were named by Dr. Don Egolf in the 1950s after American Native Indian tribes, and the colors and shades of colors were greatly improved and expanded. Other hybrids on Lagerstroemia species from China have been introduced, however, these very tall specimens are only cold hardy in lower Florida, Louisiana and California. The Crape Myrtle shrubs from India were introduced into Charleston, S.C. in 1790 after the American Independence was signed and found to live and bloom throughout the United States. The Crape Myrtle is also planted in Southern Europe extensively in Spain, Italy, Southern France, Greece and especially in Turkey, where it seems like every Mosque landscape in Istanbul, Turkey is densely planted with these spectacular flowering trees.
Only light pruning of Crape Myrtle trees is recommended, and some websites humorously call the pruning of Crape Myrtle "Crepe Murder." If the branch tips are lightly pruned after flowering fades, the branches will regrow rapidly and reflower several times from light pruning. It is a simple matter to propagate Crape Myrtle plants, simply by planting the send or by easily rooting the cuttings. After flower has ended the leaves of white flowering Crape Myrtles turn brilliant yellow in the fall, and the leaves of the colored flowering Crape Myrtle trees turn glowing orange or red followed by leaf shedding, that reveals the highly colored exfoliating bark for winter displays in the landscape.
Crape Myrtle trees and bushes are often used in landscapes as exotic flowering specimens and to line along both sides of city highways for summer color that floods Summer travelers with shades of pastel flowers for spectacular special effects when mixed colors are planted. Crape Myrtle shrubs also make excellent container plants and are dwarfed by containerizing them.
By Pat Rick