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Lagerstroemia indica L. 1759
pronounced: lah-ger-STREE-mee-uh IN-dik-uh
(Lythraceae — the crape-myrtle family)
common name: Crape-Myrtle
Lagerstroemia was named by Linnaeus in 1759 to commemorate his friend Magnus von Lagerstroem, an avid naturalist and a Director of the Swedish East India Company. He called it indica because he thought it was native to India, when in fact it came from southern and western China. It is also native to most of the countries of South-East Asia, Japan, the Philippines and Australia. Legend has it that it was first brought from China to Europe by Marco Polo (c.1254–1325), the Venetian merchant-traveller.
In the wild the species is most often found as a multi-stemmed large shrub, but 200 years of cultivation have resulted in a large number of cultivars of widely varying characteristics. Today it is possible to find crape-myrtles to fill every landscape need, from tidy street trees, dense barrier hedges all the way down to fast-growing dwarf types only about 60 cm high that can go from seed to bloom in a season in climates where it will not survive the winter. In Europe it is common in the south of France, Spain, Portugal and Italy; it is also grown extensively in the southern states of the USA, to where it was introduced by the French botanist André Michaux in about 1790.
These shrubs are not true myrtles. In general, the crape-myrtles have simple dark green leaves, most often simple pointed ovals in opposite pairs, and they can be thick and leathery. The foliage contrasts with the attractive, peeling, mostly red-brown bark, and, as autumn proceeds, the deciduous species develop rich red, orange and bronze foliage. The showy summer blooms have crinkled petals, and appear in different shades of pink, mauve and white. The flowers are followed by capsular fruits.
Crape-myrtles respond best to surface watering. Keeping the foliage dry helps prevent the powdery mildew to which the species is susceptible. It is sometimes necessary to treat these shrubs with fungicide. Varieties are now being bred resistant to mildew.
They don’t need to be pruned to flower, but the small twiggy growth can be pruned out while the trees are dormant to promote more attractive trunk shapes and allow better air circulation, another aid in the prevention of mildew. Many gardeners prune them vigorously, but this gives the plant an unbalanced, bottom-heavy appearance, thin at the top. If the tree is topped off, a lot of small, weaker branches will grow, that will not support the heavy bunches of blossom. It is not necessary to remove the old seed heads, but doing so will not harm the tree.
In the 1930s, Lagerstroemia was a very popular shrub in Townsville gardens, but it declined in popularity over the years, possibly because of the problem with mildew. It is good to see this very attractive shrub making a come-back. There are several gowing in island gardens.
Lagerstroemis indica is a host plant for several Lepidoptera, including:
Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2008-2012
Page last updated 20th January 2018