What is Lagerstroemia?

M. Haskins

Lagerstroemia is the scientific name of a genus of plants native to parts of Asia, Australia, and some islands in the Pacific Ocean. There are about 50 species of trees and shrubs that belong to the Lagerstroemia genus, and they vary in size from 1 foot (30 cm) tall to 100 feet (30 m) tall, though most are small or medium-sized. The common name for this group of plants is crape myrtle, and they are cultivated in many parts of the world with warm climates, including southern Europe and some American states like California and Texas. Some types of crape myrtle are evergreen trees, meaning they keep their leaves year round, while others are deciduous, meaning they lose their leaves in the winter. Many species of Lagerstroemia are prized by gardeners for their colorful flowers that can bloom for two to four months.

Lagerstroemia, or crape myrtles, are cultivated in parts of the world with warm climates, including California and Texas.
Lagerstroemia, or crape myrtles, are cultivated in parts of the world with warm climates, including California and Texas.

The flowers have thin, papery petals and come in many different colors, including various shades of purple, white, and red. Individual flowers are relatively small, but grow in clusters, making a colorful, showy display. The leaves are oval and smooth, and vary in size from 2-8 inches (5-20 cm) depending on the species. A distinguishing feature of the Lagerstroemia genus is the bark which peels off the trunk and branches, giving them a blotchy, multicolored look.

Crape myrtle requires warm temperatures, a relatively dry climate, and full sun to thrive. Some species can survive frost, but most will die or be damaged during severe winters. One should prune most types of crape myrtle in late winter or early spring to promote more blooms in the summer. Many Lagerstroemia trees and shrubs are susceptible to mildew, and infestations by various insects, most commonly aphids and beetles. The leaves of some species are also a natural source of food for certain moths and butterflies.

One species that is popular among gardeners in more temperate regions is Japanese Crape myrtle, or Lagerstroemia fauriei, which can grow 20-30 feet (6-9 m) tall and has white or very pale pink flowers. This species is native to Japan, and is more resistant to mildew and able to tolerate colder temperatures than many other species of Lagerstroemia. Queen Crape myrtle is another well-known species of crape myrtle. It is a deciduous tree that grows up to 65 feet (20 m) tall and has purple flowers. This species, Lagerstroemia speciosa, is native to India, and in the United States it is mostly grown in Florida and Hawaii.

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