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Monday, October 8, 2012

Crape Myrtle of the North


When I moved to East Haddam, Connecticut, 11 years ago I tried and failed at growing crape myrtle, a tree I had loved in my Southern gardens. I saw one crape myrtle in town. After several years it was gone, apparently cut down or killed in a winter too cold for this iconic little tree. I'm told it grows in towns along Long Island Sound, where the water keeps temperatures a bit warmer.


Location, location, location.



In my garden, 20 miles north of the Sound, I compensate. I grow what's known as crape myrtle of the North because of its exfoliating bark. More familiarly it is seven-son flower or Heptacodium miconioides. When I planted mine about five years ago, I almost turned it into a single-trunk tree. I'm glad I didn't.




By any name, it's a pleaser, starting in late summer with little white flowers, followed by fruits and red sepals. All understated.


The big show is the bark, whose shreds stir with the breezes.



Soon, all the leaves will freeze and disappear, the fruit and sepals, too – revealing the showy bark as a reminder of gardens in another time, another place. This is not crape myrtle, the ones I grew in the South – big-bloomed, Southern style. Still, it's close enough. I'm loving the one I'm with.

Crape myrtle of the North in stony "groundcover."

22 comments:

  1. This is a beautiful little tree. I don't think I have ever seen it before. I have a crepe myrtle. In the past I haven't been able to grow it but a friend had one pop up in her garden and she passed it along to me. I don't know which one it is but it has survived several years. The Crepes I tried before froze to the ground but survived a year or two. If we ever get a regular winter it will be interesting to see what this one does.

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    1. Lisa, you struck it rich. Your friend must have gotten a seedling that was a good mutant. And, yes, a real winter could be rough on even a tough mutant. I can't wait to learn what happens.

      Does your friend live in your part of Indiana? You see any other crapes in your area? (You say crepe, I say crape, let's not call the whole thing off.)

      Cheers!

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  2. Hey Lee,

    So nice to read about your crape myrtle of the North. It is a wonderful tree and the bark is definitely a bonus. I planted one in my garden and one in the demonstration garden I help to maintain.

    Crape myrtle of the North and the South are both winners in my book.

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    1. Barbara, Hey. You have the best of both worlds.

      I know this is an unfair question, especially for an Alabaman (you say Alabamian?) buuut, if you could only have crape myrtle of the North or crape myrtle of the South, which would you choose?

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    2. Hey Lee,

      You know you're right about the question being unfair as to which I'd rather have. You also know I want any plant to excess. So the answer is BOTH. One good point is Heptacodium seems to be resistant to Japanese beetles. They destroy the flowers on Crape Myrtle.

      Yes, you are my fellow Alabamian. I love to think of the good and positive things, not negative the world knows us by.

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    3. Well, Barbara, we wouldn't be Southern if we weren't excessive. More, more, more. Never enough, even there seems no more room in the garden. More.

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  3. Here in Ontario mine is now in its pink stage. It was moved from a rather shady spot to full sun a few years ago and has been a star ever since.

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    1. Greetings, Marie. It's good to know it blooms that far north. Enjoy!

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  4. Have you tried any of the crape myrtle varieties that are touted as being hardy enough for zone 6 gardens? They grow as shrubs but can get quite large-especially after a mild winter. I have two-a small shrub 'Cherry Dazzle' and a larger one 'Dynamite'. Both have been perfectly hardy in my garden for many years.

    I also grow Heptacodium in a tree form and agree it's well worth the real estate. Mine suffered alot of damage in the October snow storm last year but seems to be recovering quite nicely.

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    1. I haven't tried any for a while, but the warming climate and your experiences make me believe my chances have gotten better. I looked at pix of your two online and certainly would be happy with them. Hurry spring.

      So, if you had to choose between heptacodium and crape myrtle, which would you grow?

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    2. Hmmm...tough question...I think if the crape myrtles grew in tree form here I would prefer them over a Heptacodium.

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    3. Ummm, yes, me too. Alas, if warm winters become normal, we'll be growing crape myrtles as tall as those in Dixie.

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  5. This is an unusual tree, very southern looking to my northern eye. I have not traveled much in the south and really do need to see crape myrtles in all their beauty some day. Heptacodium seems like a beautiful substitute --- I'm glad you let yours grow multi stemmed. And it is set off by the startling gravel chunk groundcover, which is perfect for this tree's architecture and twisting form.

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    1. Your designer's eye is always sharp, Laurrie. Thank you. I hope you do someday see crape myrtles in the South; an allee of them in bloom is so dramatic, you'll hear organs playing. And it's not just the vision; I always had to touch that bark too.

      Until then, heptacodium will get you ready for the experience.

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  6. There's just enough in this crape myrtle to keep alive the memory of the one you had back home. I think your last line says it all, "I'm loving the one I'm with."

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    1. You know how it is, Rosemary; you're fortunate when you find a way to recall fond memories. It's not always possible, but when it is, it's happy-making. Whether the memories are about food, flowers or something else.


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  7. Hey, Lee. You might try the U.S. Arboretum selections of crape myrtles named after Indian tribes (Natchez', 'Miami', 'Zuni', etc.). They are supposedly hardy in northern states. I have planted them in zone 6 and they've thrived, but I don't know for sure about zone 4 or 5. They're multi-trunked, disease resistant, etc. -- lovely trees. Natchez is white, with beautiful, copper-colored, exfoliating bark. Gets over 20-25+ ft. tall. Anyway, worth looking into. I like heptacodium, too.

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    1. Hey, DJ. I love those; clever to name the ones with superior qualities after Indian tribes, isn't it. If they're thriving for you, they're definitely worth my trying. 'Preciate the suggestion.

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  8. Hi Lee,
    I'm truly not familiar with this tree at all. But it's a lovely one. Glad that it brings back sweet memories for you :)

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    1. Hello, ASH. I am pleased that you like this tree. It is amazing how many fine plants there are – that we have never seen. Thank you for stopping by. Cheers.

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    2. I like the graceful growth form of this one, Lee. Unfortunately, there are many southern crape myrtles around here in dire need of a proper pruning. I wish I could give them all a good haircut! All the best! :-)

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    3. Beth, you won't believe how many times I've railed against the shearing of crape myrtles, which some of us call "crape murder."

      I know why people do it; it's expedient. I consider pruning these trees an interesting challenge. Glad you like mine.

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