Along The Horticulture Path
Jerry W. Weise, GCSC, Inc. Horticulture Chairman
Is Crape Myrtle a tree or a shrub? This came up Thursday in discussion at the GCSC Board meeting concerning what constitutes a historic tree. It depends on what species or cultivar/hybrid you are growing.
The genus Lagerstroemia has about 50 species of small trees and shrubs.
Lagerstroemia fauriei is an upright many stemmed small tree (to 25 feet tall/wide) with peeling red-brown bark. It is deciduous and has white flowers. Origin is Japan.
L. indica is an upright deciduous small tree or shrub growing to 25 feet. Flowers are white ,pink, red or purple. Hails from China. Crape Myrtle (L. indica) was introduced to the U.S. about 1790 in Charleston, SC by Andre Michaux. These two species have produced many beautiful and vigorous hybrids. A few are listed below.
Hybrids of L. fauriei and L. indica listed below show resistance to powdery mildew, a scourge of Crape Myrtle in the steamy south.
‘Cherokee’ -open branched shrub with brilliant red flowers
‘Muskogee” –vigorous tree with mid-lavender flowers
‘Natchez’ –vigorous cultivar with white flowers; grows to 20 feet tall and wide
‘Lavender Dwarf’ – spreading shrub with light lavender blooms; to 6 feet tall and wide
Check horticultural references and/or growers/nurserymen for your cultivar’s designation. Generally my personal take on this is if it is 20 feet tall or more a crape myrtle is a lovely flowering tree. That is totally my opinion so go by what the experts classify a particular cultivar.
See you along the garden path. Jerry
From Abelia to ZZ Plant
Aspidistra to Zinnia
Gardeners in South Carolina are blessed with a climate that allows us to grow a large variety of plants. For many of these we know them by their botanical names; Abelia, Aspidistra, Zinnia. The relatively ‘new darling’ of the houseplants, the ZZ plant, is best known by this nickname. If, however, you plan to exhibit this tropical native hailing from Kenya to South Africa, you need to use the botanical name Zamioculcas zamiifolia!
Many times in the world of plants what is old is new again. The Victorian parlour plant Aspidistra elatior is rightfully dubbed Cast Iron Plant. This native of China can be planted outdoors in zones 7-10 and is used as a landscape plant throughout much of the South. The clump forming perennial is a member of the Lily family (Liliaceae), though the blooms are rarely seen, occurring at ground level and hidden by the leaves. Cast Iron Plant withstands dense shade, poor soil, heat, cold and drought. It will survive in sun but burns and does not have the rich dark green of shade grown clumps. Basically pest free except for the occasional scale or leaf eating insects, I discovered (painfully) that small wasps tend to make their home hidden down in the clump. This discovery was made as I was cutting the dark green parallel veined leaves for use in an altar arrangement. The foliage has long been a favorite of designers either natural or manipulated. The tough leaf can be rolled back on itself and pierced with the stem to form a green ‘bow loop’ or wired on the back and then shaped into an undulating form. For a creative design many fanciful shapes can be cut in the leaves with sharp scissors. In water the tough cut leaves will outlast most flowers.
Aspidistra grows from thick rhizomes. It spreads slowly from established clumps and can be propagated by divisions in early spring. I harvest my plants frequently so very few leaves get old and ragged. If used as a landscape feature, clean these up annually. I have seen it suggested that the entire clump be cut to the ground in January every three to five years.
There are many species of aspidistra. A. crispa has yellow spots on the leaves while A. elatior ‘Variegata’ has green and white striped foliage. A. daibuensis from Taiwan has purple and white flowers and also from Taiwan A. attenuate has yellow and peach flowers. The selection of A. elatior ‘Milky Way’ produces low, compact leaves speckled with white, like a starry, starry night.
Did you know aspidistra was part of the British war effort during WWII? Aspidistra was a 600kW mediumwave radio transmitter used for military deception purposes against Nazi Germany. At one time it was the most powerful broadcast transmitter in the world. Its name was inspired by the comic song about the popular houseplant The Biggest Aspidistra in the World as sung by Gracie Fields. Seems someone planted an acorn in the pot of aspidistra . . .