Lagerstroemia (properly Crape-myrtle, sometimes spelled Crepe-myrtle) is a genus of around 50 species of deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs native to the Indian subcontinent, southeast Asia, northern Australia and parts of Oceania. It is a member of the Lythraceae, which is also known as the Loosestrife family.
While various species and cultivars are able to fill a wide variety of landscape needs, crape-myrtles are chiefly famous for their colorful and long-lasting flowers. Most species of Lagerstroemia have sinewy, fluted stems and branches with a mottled appearance that arises from having bark that sheds throughout the year. The leaves are opposite, simple, with entire margins, and vary from 5-20 cm (2-8 in). While all species are woody in nature, they can range in height from over 100 feet to under one foot; most, however are small to medium multiple-trunked trees and shrubs. The leaves of temperate species provide autumn colour.
Flowers are borne in summer and autumn in panicles of crinkled flowers with a crepe-like texture. Colours vary from deep purple to red to white, with almost every shade in between. Although no blue-flowered varieties exist, it is toward the blue end of the spectrum that the flowers trend, with no sight of orange or yellow except in stamens and pistils. The fruit is a capsule, green and succulent at first, then ripening to dark brown or black dryness. It splits along six or seven lines, producing teeth much like those of the calyx, and releases numerous small winged seeds.
The timber of some species has been used to manufacture bridges, furniture and railway sleepers.
In the wild the species is most often found as a multi-stemmed large shrub, but two hundred years of cultivation has resulted in a huge number of cultivars of widely varying characteristics. Today it is possible to find crape-myrtles to fill every landscape need, from tidy street trees to dense barrier hedges all the way down to fast-growing dwarf types of less than two feet which can go from seed to bloom in a season (allowing gardeners in places where the plant is not winter hardy to still enjoy the intense colors of the frilly flowers). In Europe crape-myrtle is common in the south of France, the Iberian peninsula and all of Italy; in the United States it can be seen anywhere south of USDA Zone 6, doing best and avoiding fungal diseases in mild climates that are not overly humid such as inland California and Texas. In some parts of Texas, the Crape-myrtle is also known as a Cuddle Tree.
While not as widely known, the Japanese Crape-myrtle (Lagerstroemia fauriei) from central and southern Japan is becoming increasingly important, both as a landscaping plant and as a parent in complex hybrids with L. indica. This species is distinctly tree-like with colorful deciduous bark and dark green leaves which are more resistant to fungal diseases than are those of its more popular relative. Flowers are as large as those of L. indica, but are white with only the slightest pink flush appearing in some individuals. Japanese Crape-myrtle is hardier to cold than many strains of L. indica, a characteristic (along with fungal-resistance, tree form and colorful bark) that makes it valuable as genetic material for hybridization. Cultivars available include "Kiowa", "Fantasy" and "Townhouse.
Lagerstroemia speciosa, known as Queen Crape-myrtle, Giant Crape-myrtle or Banabá originates in subtropical and tropical India. It can be grown in any similar climate, but in the United States is suitable only for southern Florida, southernmost Texas and California and Hawaii. It is a large evergreen tree with colorful rosy-mauve flowers and striking white bark, suitable for public parks and avenues; only the seed-grown species is commonly available for sale, unlike with L. indica and L. fauriei, which have dozens of cultivars.
In their respective climates, both sub-tropical and tropical species are common in domestic and commercial landscapes.