63. Crape Myrtle

(Lagerstroemia indica)

Other Common Name: Crepe Myrtle

Family: Lythraceae

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In the Medicinal Herb Garden east of Garfield Lane lane is one of the smaller trees on this tour: Washington's largest Crape Myrtle, just over 30 feet (9.1 meters) tall. The Lagerstroemia genus contains other species that range from less than one foot (0.3 meters) to 100 feet (30 meters) in height. The trunk is multicolored in smooth, almost animal-like ripples covered with peeling bark. The crown of leaves is light and shiny. In the fall the foliage shifts to showy oranges, reds, and yellows. From about mid-August to mid-October, varying yearly, the tree has spectacular bright pink flowers that look as if they are made of crepe paper. Though native to the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, northern Australia and parts of Oceania, this tree is known to most of us as a common ornamental in the Southern United States and California. It grows fine in Seattle, too, but blooms well only when placed in hot sites.

The wood makes strong timber used to construct bridges, furniture and railroad ties. The beautiful bark of this species is thin and can be easily damaged, but it can make an attractive street tree if the lower limbs are removed. It often grows with multiple trunks, but it can be trained to grow with a single trunk. Nurseries sometimes plant crape myrtle around their borders to attract insects away from other plants.

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