September 18, 2012
If there is one plant that could be called the flower of the south, it has to be the crape myrtle. Colorful flower clusters put on a show from early summer through late fall. Here at the MSU South Mississippi Branch Station in Poplarville crape myrtles have been grown and evaluated for over 25 years. The spectacular flowers are actually large panicles composed of many small flowers. These panicles can be more than eight inches long. Flower colors range from white, shades of pink and purple, and rich reds. The small flowers have a crinkled edge resembling crepe paper, hence the name. Crape myrtles have other outstanding qualities. As the tree mature the bark begins to peel or exfoliate revealing the inner bark colors ranging from gray-green to dark cinnamon-red. The solid green summer foliage transitions to a bright red-orange in the fall. There is a new crape myrtle called Delta Jazz that I'm really excited about, and it was developed at Mississippi State. Delta Jazz has unusual foliage, emerging rich raspberry maroon and then maturing to dark mahogany brown. This foliage color accents the clusters of medium pink flowers in the late summer. Delta Jazz makes a fantastic landscape feature plant. If you would like more information about crape myrtles please request the Extension publication Crape Myrtle: Flower of the South from your county Extension office or msucares.com. Crape myrtles are a landscape favorite throughout the South because of the showy flowers and interesting bark. I'm horticulturist Gary Bachman for Southern Gardening.