7/24/2013 9:02:00 AM Crepe myrtles are showing their glory
Brenda Harrison Editor
The crepe myrtle trees have never been lovelier. Do I hear a ditto or amen? The crepe (also spelled crape) myrtles around town have been bursting forth in bright pinks, reds, lavenders and whites blooms for a couple of weeks now. Presenting all their glory, they are the best show in town right now. I never realized just how popular they are with Florence residents. But, as I drive around town, I don’t go far before I spot a crape myrtle bowing over with blooms of color. There is one in my yard as well. With a little search on the Internet, I discovered that the common crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) originates from China and Korea. According to “Southern Living Magazine,” the vaunted crepe myrtle arrived in England from its native China in 1759. It impressed very few people, though, because it refused to bloom. England just wasn’t hot enough. However, the American South was. So when plant explorer and botanist to King Louis XVI André Michaux introduced this tree into Charleston around 1786, it celebrated like an innocent prisoner released from jail. In the wild, the species is most often found as a multi-stemmed large shrub, but 200 years of cultivation has resulted in a huge number of cultivars of widely varying characteristics. Today, crape myrtles varieties can fill every landscape need, from tidy street trees to dense barrier hedges all the way down to fast-growing dwarf types of less than two feet, which can go from seed to bloom in a season (allowing gardeners in places where the plant is not winter-hardy to still enjoy the intense colors of the frilly flowers). In Europe, crape myrtle is common in the south of France, the Iberian Peninsula and all of Italy; in the United States it can be seen anywhere south of USDA Zone 6, doing best and avoiding fungal diseases in mild climates that are not overly humid, such as inland California and Texas. Unlike the azalea, camellia, and gardenia, which pine for acid soil, crepe myrtle flourishes just about everywhere. No wonder it ranks as the South’s most popular (and coveted) ornamental tree. I hope you are enjoying this show of color as much as I am!