The colorful crape (or is it crepe?) myrtles help keep Washington Parish beautiful

Published 11:12 pm Sunday, July 14, 2013

Surely you have noticed how beautifully the crape myrtle trees are blooming this year — so colorful and so striking. I don’t believe I have ever seen them so full of blossoms.

My dad used to call them graveyard flowers because at just about any cemetery you will see at least one old-fashioned crape myrtle tree standing as a silent sentinel. You’ll also see many of the older varieties on old homesteads or abandoned places, making a spot of color on an otherwise drab area and reminding us that once someone was there and planted a tree. The old trees seem to live forever with very little care.

I suppose they are so many of them on the old places because they are so easy to propagate. Cut a little sprig during the summer, dip the end in a rooting substance and poke it in some dirt. Keep it watered and in a protected place outside and if you have even a smidgen of a green thumb and a little patience, chances are you will have a little crepe myrtle plant.

This might not work on the newer varieties, but with the old-fashioned types it works quite well. If you want more details you can find them on the Internet, along with how to care for them. My mother-in-law kept a little knife in her apron pocket for just such things and outside her front yard in the “lane” as she called it, were numerous crape myrtle trees she had rooted and grown by this method. Some she kept cut back into bushes and the others grew taller into their natural forms. When they bloomed in the summer, it was quite a scene.

She gave me a couple of the old-fashioned pink types when we moved into our home. I never did anything with them except plant them and let them grow. As a result they became tall and slim and produce few blooms, but they have the most beautiful trunks. Over the years the trunks of crape myrtles became quite lovely taking on a patina that adds to the beauty of the plant.

I have passed by so many homes and businesses lately seeing the crape myrtles of numerous colors in full bloom. On the way to Franklinton one day, I particularly noticed a yard on the left on Highway 10 just in the edge of town with several of the most gorgeous red crape myrtles in full bloom. We are perhaps familiar with the watermelon red color, but this was a really dark true red and unusual.

Then at the Methodist church in Franklinton, the watermelon red trees were in full bloom and so noticeable in such small spaces. These were just a couple of the places I particularly noticed as I drove by right after they started blooming. Everywhere we go now I am constantly pointing out to Rob all the beautiful and different colored crape myrtles, including the white ones.

The crape myrtles are natives of China and arrived in England in 1759, but they didn’t like the English climate and wouldn’t bloom. André Michaux, botanist to King Louis XVI, introduced this tree into Charleston, S.C., around 1786, and it thrived really well in the heat and humidity of the South. And, as they say — the rest is history.

Like watermelon and homemade ice cream, the crape myrtle blooms signal summertime in our area. It has often been called the flowering tree of 100 days, as it bears its colorful blossoms for a period of some three months.

Even after the crape myrtle blooms are gone the beauty isn’t over. The leaves will turn to bright fall colors. Later on, there isn’t anything more beautiful than those stark bare limbs against a blue, blue winter sky.

I was once chastised by one of the local garden clubs for spelling it crepe myrtle in the newspaper instead of crape myrtle, but I notice it is spelled both ways by the experts with some using one spelling and others, the other spelling.

Whether you spell it crape or crepe, it is a beautiful addition to the landscape of any home or business and grows especially well in our area. If you haven’t already noticed, take a look and seriously admire the beauty of this old-fashioned tree.

Few plants in the yard can offer so much beauty for so long and demand so little.

Retired Lifestyle Editor Bob Ann Breland, a resident of Pine, writes a weekly column and may be contacted at bobann_b@ yahoo. com.