Wednesday, July 31, 2019

...tree magic, murder, and rising from the dirt...

As long as I can remember, I have loved trees. One of my favorite ornamental trees is the Lagerstroemia, commonly known as the crape myrtle or crepe myrtle. These are popular trees in the American South. 

Ebony & Ivory Crape Myrtle
As the story goes, as they made their way from China and arrived in England in 1759, they were met with lackluster enthusiasm for the crape myrtles would not bloom. It seems that England just isn’t hot enough to get crape myrtles to bloom; but, the American South is.

The botanist to King Louis XVI AndrĂ© Michaux introduced the crape myrtle into Charleston around 1786, and the tree exploded in blooms. Crape myrtles love heat and they love humidity. They grow quickly and they’re even tolerant to drought. While some of our other Southern bloomers like the gardenia and azalea require acidic soil, crape myrtles don’t seem to care what they’re given. Clearly they were a hit in Charleston and Southerners gossip so they ended up all across the South after that.

Crape myrtles need to be cut back annually to allow for new growth and blooms for the next year. How much these need to be cut back is up for debate and Southerners are quit opinionated. One of our neighbors cuts his down to little stumps. That happens to trees on public lots as well. Many people call this “crape murder” and I happen to agree with them. No one needs to cut back a tree to that extreme so that other trees make fun of them in the winter. Seriously!

Illegally planted Crape Myrtle in 2015 wasn't receiving much sunlight
This, of course, leads to my own crape myrtle experience. In August 2011, I planted a Red Dynamite crape myrtle on our property at the old house, the townhome with the HOA (Home Owners Association), which promptly sent me a nasti-gram reading that I could not have a tree. There were no rules or regulations in our HOA paperwork about not having trees on our property but I obeyed and dug up the tree. Well, I sort of obeyed. I knew that a Red Dynamite Crape Myrtle, which grows to about 20' x 20', would grow too large for our wee backyard so instead I moved it to the common area. That was my illegal move but the community president did always talk about having trees. He just wanted to be the one who picked them.

The little tree is growing! Near the Ebony & Ivory crape myrtle
a few inches tall when transplanted in July 2018

I’m a girl who follows rules so let me explain that this was a bit out of character for me but I loved the Red Dynamite so much. And, because I lived on the end unit, I had become responsible for watering the community trees if they were going to be watered at all. I figured if I was the one taking care of the others, what would it matter if one more pretty tree was added to the mix. That isn't the best logic but that's what I did. Unfortunately, it turned out that that community area's trees outgrew the tiny crape myrtle and for much of his time he did not receive enough sun.

2018 a few months after he was transplanted he started growing like mad!
Last week! Go Red Dynamite Go!
The landscapers also repeatedly cut down the crape myrtle thinking he was a weed. That little tree was spunky and he just kept growing back. The weedwacking continued to happen all the way up until last year when we bought our current home. Just days before I planned to move him, the landscapers cut him down to inches. I was so angry then but now I'm delighted because he made it.

From the pictures, you can see that he was just a few inches high. My fella did not believe he would make it but trees are magic and I believed. He grew and he grew and within one year he is nearly 6 feet tall! Mind you, he’s an 8-year-old tree who had some pretty good roots since I always watered him.
I think we can learn so much from crape myrtles—how to keep going in adversity; how to look stunning even on 100-degree days with high humidity; how to be a little exotic but thrive where you're planted; how to be low maintenance; and, how to keep growing even when cut back. In fact, crape myrtles grow because they’re cut back. I guess I wouldn’t mind being a crape myrtle. 

Crape myrtles are like people in that they come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. While the Red Dynamite may be considered more of a traditional crape myrtle, there are numerous dark and spooky crape myrtles including the Ebony & Ivory crape myrtle, which only grows to about 10'x 8' and includes bright white blooms against black foliage. I have the Ebony & Ivory tree planted near the Red Dynamite in the perennial hibiscus garden. One day they will grow to the point of having their blooms touch one another (and further block the view of the neighbor's house). 

Recently I added a Magic Midnight crape myrtle, which will grow 4-6 ft tall in our front yard. This is a smaller crape myrtle that has purple-maroonish foliage and bright hot pink blooms. That tree is pictured at the very top beside the quote for this post. 

Crape myrtles are great tree friends and I look forward to having them for many years to come. 

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