The Wide Diversity of Crape Myrtles
Board member, The Crape Myrtle Trails of McKinney
In doing research for our comprehensive poster Crape Myrtles and also in planning for The World Collection Park in which all known varieties (as of 2011) would be planted side-by-side, horticulturists and Crape Myrtle Trails board members spent hundreds of hours researching the American nursery industry and botanic gardens.
Almost 120 varieties were identified, but it is widely noted that many varieties may exist under several different names. Dr. Don Egolf’s Lagerstroemia Handbook/Checklist American Association of Botanic Gardens and Arboreta, Inc., 1978) showed 169 of what he called “valid” cultivar names, but many of those appear to have been of limited distribution and may even be extinct in the trade by now. And, many more varieties have been introduced into the trade since the book was published in 1978. More are introduced each year.
The United States National Arboretum maintains a more current checklist.
Whatever the total number of varieties, the important thing to remember is that you don’t want to choose just by color. Gone are the days when we might ask for “a red crape myrtle” or “a white one.” Gardeners have learned to ask for them by specific variety name so that they can better predict the plant’s performance.
Equally important, gardeners need to choose by mature plant size, so that their new crape myrtles will fit into the space they have available for them.
Many of our crape myrtle varieties have been introduced since 1960. That is generally considered by experts to be the watershed year dividing old varieties from the newer hybrids. As mentioned, you can choose from many features such as flower color, mature size, growth form (shrub-like, weeping, miniature or tree-form), disease and pest resistance, patented varieties, trunk color and character, fall color and even coloration of spring and summer foliage.
Choosing the best size to buy
Fantasy (white) is one of the tallest crape myrtles, growing to 40 feet and beyond. Biloxi (pink) will grow to 30 feet. Natchez (white), Basham’s Party Pink, Choctaw (pink), Muskogee (lavender), and Tuscarora (dark pink) all grow to 20 feet tall.
When selecting these types of crape myrtles, one needs to have a plan in place for planting it. Many times in the nursery these crape myrtles will be in 5-gallon containers and will be only 4 or 5 feet tall. The homeowner may plant it next to the house, and within five years the tree will have become too large for its surroundings. The truth is, these overgrown plants should either be relocated to more spacious surroundings, or they should be removed entirely. Taller crape myrtles really need to be used as large, defining shrubs or pruned into tree forms so that they can be used as accent trees in the landscape.
Medium crape myrtles grow from 10 to 20 feet at maturity. Acoma (white) is a beautifully arching, shrub-like crape myrtle that will only grow to about 12 feet, but its growth habit is almost that wide as well. Cherokee (pink), Seminole (dark pink), Tonto (dark pink), Catawba (dark purple) and Potomac (pink) are medium-sized plants that are often trained tree-form for use in patio areas and other places where more robust types might grow too tall.
Miniature weeping crape myrtles grow only to 3 feet. Weeping types have more arching habits and stay at 18 inches or less. Dwarf varieties are so short that they are used primarily as flowering shrubs. Baton Rouge (dark pink), Sacramento (dark pink), Pixie White and Snow Baby are a few examples. Orlando (lavender) and Delta Blush (pink) are a couple of the weeping varieties which look great grown in large planters. A United States National Arboretum introduction called Pokemoke grows to 3 feet tall and wide and is covered with very small leaves and rosy red flower clusters the size of ping pong balls.
There is a crape myrtle variety that will be appropriate for any size of space you have available. Please see our variety lists for more details.