Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Crepe Myrtle...a most RevolutionaryTree

Backyard Crepe Myrtle Blossoms by KL Wood
When describing Edenton, I often refer to it as “dripping with history and crepe myrtles.” Whether you spell it, “Crape,” or “Crepe,” the Lagerstroemia indica is a gracious and beautifully ubiquitous member of our fair town. It’s a tree found only in warm climes (Hardiness Zones 7 to 9) so, although we tend to take it for granted, our more northern visitors are awestruck with its incredible beauty. Sometimes referred to as “The Four Season Tree,” we enjoy its bodaciously long-lived blossoms each summer, its flame-hued leaves in autumn, its smooth, polished bark and artistically twisting limbs in winter, and its fresh young leaves each spring.

From snowy white, to deepest fuchsia red, and all shades of pink and lavender in between, our exotic “Tree of a Hundred Days” (blooming for about 100 days each year,) is also uniquely appropriate to Edenton’s Revolutionary Spirit. Just as our ladies famously refused to purchase English tea in 1774, the Crepe Myrtle refused to thrive in the cooler English climes, when first imported there in 1759 from its native China. When Andre Michaux, botanist to France’s King Louis XVI, introduced the tree to Charleston, South Carolina around 1786, however, it breathed in the young nation’s warm air and burst into fragrant bloom! And the rest, as they say, is history.

Pardon me while I wax poetic, but such intoxicating beauty inspires me to toss out a few quick lines of verse.

Ode to Crepe Myrtles

Crinkly crinolines of Summer splendor,
they breathe in air and exhale flowers.
Autumn paints their leaves with flame,
while Winter bares their sculpted limbs.
Their delicate leaves of vernal Spring,
a prelude to their hundred-day reign.

In addition to their visual appeal, Crepe Myrtle flowers are a good food source for honey bees and other pollinators. Although they do not produce nectar (bee honey,) they do produce pollen (bee bread,) a necessary form of protein. As a matter of fact, Crepe Myrtles produce two different kinds of pollen. One for reproduction (the brown pad-like anthers,) and one just for the pollinators (the bright yellow anthers.) With the disturbing decline of honey bee populations, we can thank the Crepe Myrtle for doing its part to help keep this important plant pollinator alive.

Old Crepe Myrtle, Edenton by KL Wood
Oh, and one more thing--Please don’t be one of those well meaning but misinformed and misguided gardeners who commit “Crepe Murder” each year! The trend, started years ago, to annually chop off the lovely tree limbs to barren stubs, is unnecessary and just plain ugly. I’m gratified to see that most of Edenton’s trees are properly pruned and have been spared that particular botanical humiliation. If not convinced, please check out this link from an online Southern Living magazine article:

Now, won’t you join me as I go outside to sip a glass of lemonade beneath the inviting shade of the nearest Crepe Myrtle? We won’t have to go far!

Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now.