Summertime a Peel

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Lagerstroemia 'Firebird'Summertime is a great time of year to see lots of different flowering plants. We have gardens focusing on butterflies and hummingbirds and the plants they desire. The perennial garden, sensory garden and tropical garden are all bursting with flowers. Color is everywhere.

One plant commonly seen around the Garden is the crape myrtle. This is a staple of the summer garden in this region, providing steady color in the hottest time of the year. In the Garden, the common crape myrtle provides a structural element since trees line many of our paths and roads. They even are a key element in the NATO vista. But there is more to them than just masses of pink flowers.

Located in the heart of the flowering arboretum is a grove of crape myrtles that showcases many of the 80+ hybrids and cultivars in our collection. Here, a visitor can compare the different colors and forms of this plant. They come in a range of sizes from dwarf varieties to large multi-stemmed shrubs and single stemmed trees.

Lagerstroemia 'Prairie Lace'Colors range from the whites to lavenders to reds. Many of the interesting whites include ‘Acoma,’ ‘Natchez’ and ‘Snow.’ Look for soft lavenders flowers on ‘Near East’ and ‘Yuma.’ How many shade of pink are there? Compare ‘Firebird,’ ‘Petite Embers,’ ‘Pink Lace,’ and ‘Choctow’ among others and you will come to appreciate this color in a way that only little girls or paint store clerks currently do.  Some crape myrtles tend towards red and even purple, including ‘Cherry Dazzle,’ ‘Watermelon Red’ and ‘Zuni.’  Of course some have exceptional coloration, like ‘Prairie Lace’ whose pink petals are edged with white.

Flowers get the attention, but don’t forget the bark. Crape myrtle has a thin bark and in the summer it will peel like a sunburned child. This is perfectly normal so don’t fret that your tree has some disease problem. The good public relations spin is that it has “exfoliating bark.” As a matter of fact some species and varieties have exceptionally interesting bark.

Peeling bark of (from left) Lagerstroemia 'Townhouse', Lagerstroemia 'Lipan' and Lagerstroemia 'Fantasy'Peeling bark of (from left) Lagerstroemia ‘Townhouse’, Lagerstroemia ‘Lipan’ and Lagerstroemia ‘Fantasy’

Japanese Crape Myrtles have dark cinnamon-colored bark which is revealed when the outer bark peels. Look for ‘Fantasy’ as a good example. The deepest red-brown can be found on ‘Townhouse’ which is also a great tree for smaller townhouse gardens. Many hybrid crape myrtles have Japanese crape myrtle parentage just for that cinnamon color, including the popular ‘Natchez.’ At the other end of the spectrum, some crape myrtles peel to reveal a lighter color underneath, including ‘Lipan.’

So come out and see the crape myrtles as you wander through the maze exhibit. This special grove is a great place to get lost.

See more photos of the plants mentioned in this blog