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Meet this Tree: Lagerstroemia indica – Crape Myrtle

Lagerstroemia indica – crape myrtle (also spelled crepe) is an excellent candidate for narrow parkways. (Photos from Emina Darakjy)

Editor’s Note: This week we feature another tree from Emina Darakjy, a very knowledgeable tree enthusiast and our newest Buzz contributor. When we started this feature, we had just reported on the latest loss of a mature street tree. We hope these columns, featuring trees that will do well in our neighborhoods, will inspire readers to plant new trees. Planting a tree is a simple step we can all take to combat climate change and improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods. Please feel free to email at [email protected] us if you have any tree questions for Emina! 

Lagerstroemia indica – crape myrtle, also spelled crepe myrtle
Family: Lythraceae

The crape myrtle is a small to medium size deciduous tree, native to China, Japan and the Indian subcontinent and was introduced to Europe in 1759 from China. In the sixties, several different hybrids of this tree were developed at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington D.C.

The tree can reach a height of 20 to 30 feet tall with a 10 to 20 feet spread. The shape of the crown varies depending on the cultivar. The trunk is very smooth with an exfoliate thin bark exposing a surface underneath with blotches of tan, cinnamon, gray and pink colors. Leaves are opposite, glossy green and oval, turning yellow, red and orange in the fall prior to dropping off.

In late summer when few other trees are blooming, the crape myrtle is covered with showy clusters of cone shaped flowers with crinkled petals that resemble crepe-paper. The flowers come in a wide range of colors including brilliant shades of pink, violet, salmon, red and white. The crape myrtle is also considered one of the longest blooming trees anywhere. Woody brown seed capsules resembling little flowers themselves appear on the tree branches after the blooming period.

The crape myrtle prefers a sunny location and can do well in any type of soils including clay. It requires deep watering when young but less frequently as the tree matures making it moderately drought tolerant.

The crape myrtle is not suitable for coastal and foggy areas as this tends to cause mildew. The same problem occurs if the tree is planted in the shade.

The following hybrids which were all developed at the National Arboretum: Arapaho with red flowers, Natchez with pure white flowers, Tuscarora with coral/pink flowers and the Muskogee with lilac flowers are all considered mildew resistant.

The crape myrtle is a very easy tree to grow. It requires pruning only for shaping or clearance when planted as a street tree and it has a non-aggressive root system making it a good candidate for very narrow parkways. Also, it is suitable under power lines.

The crape myrtle does well when planted in a grouping in one’s garden, in parks as a multi trunk, a shrub, or trained as a single trunk/standard form when used as a street tree.

The huge display of flowers, the attractive bark and the stunning foliage colors in the fall make the crape myrtle attractive year-around and a prized addition to any landscape. The only thing missing for me is I would love to see a plant breeder come up with a yellow crape myrtle!

In late summer when few other trees are blooming. The crape myrtle is also considered one of the longest blooming trees anywhere.

Emina Darakjy is a past president of Pasadena Beautiful and its present Tree Program Chair. Darakjy says she has always had a passion for trees and that she is involved with several other tree organizations such as California Re-Leaf, the Arbor Day Foundation and American Forests. She is a past president of Street Tree Seminar Inc. and the present president of the California Urban Forests Council.





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    • Thanks for your question John.
      Here’s what Emina said: Because of its large clusters of flowers, and the fact that the tree blooms for a very long period, 90 to 120 days of the year, butterflies love the crape myrtle, not only do they feed on the sweet nectar of the flowers but they also use the tree to rest and hide from the bad weather and any predators.

      Bees and hummingbirds are also attracted to the crape myrtle blooms which provide ample food for them.

      Very often you find birds nesting in crape myrtles when the trees are not dormant.

      You are always going to find someone that says the opposite but the majority of the findings show that crape myrtles are good for wildlife.


      • If you ask any urban ecologist, they will tell you that even if some birds will nest in crepe myrtles, they have no value as food for native wildlife. This is not just an “opposite opinion,” it’s science. Despite their very pretty flowers, these trees offer little to no value, especially in this region which is a biodiversity hotspot (look it up). You’ll find countless scientific data that in order to maintain populations of native birds and other wildlife, you need insects that specifically feed on native trees and plants. Let’s do more promoting of those 🙂


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