Tuskegee crapemyrtle
Three Lagerstroemia ‘Tuskegee’ in full bloom in August along the Azalea Meadow at the Morris Arboretum. Photo by Katherine Wagner-Reiss.

Contributed by Katherine Wagner-Reiss

Tuskegee crapemyrtle is a small flowering tree whose scientific name Lagerstroemia ‘Tuskegee’ has a rich backstory. Magnus von Lagerström, a director of the Swedish East India Company, presented rare natural history items to Linnaeus; Linnaeus honored his friend’s contributions to botany by naming the genus Lagerstroemia for him. ‘Tuskegee’ is one of at least 25 powdery mildew-resistant crapemyrtle hybrid cultivars bred by the U.S. National Arboretum, each cultivar named for different Native American groups. The cultivars vary in aspects such as height, flower color, and bark patterne.g. ‘Tuskegee’ has dark pink to red flowers, ‘Muskogee’ has light lavender flowers, and ‘Natchez’ has white flowers. The powdery mildew resistance was achieved by hybridizing the common crapemyrtle (L. indica) from China with the powdery mildew-resistant Japanese crapemyrtle (L. fauriei).

 

Tuskegee crapemyrtle bark
Lagerstroemia ‘Tuskegee’ with exfoliating bark at the Morris Arboretum. Photo by Katherine Wagner-Reiss.

Muskogee flower panicle
Lagerstroemia ‘Muskogee’ flower panicle showing light lavender petals and early seed capsule formation near the Visitor Center at the Morris Arboretum. Photo by Katherine Wagner-Reiss.

 

Ebony Fire displays its burgundy leaves
Lagerstroemia ‘Ebony Fire’ displays its burgundy leaves in the Rose Garden. Photo by Katherine Wagner-Reiss.

The Morris Arboretum accessioned one of the species L. indica in 1959, followed by five ‘Tuskogee’ in 1995 and one ‘Muskogee’ in 2014.  The Ebony series, composed of five different L. indica cultivars notable for black-purple leaves, was registered by the USDA in 2013; the Morris Arboretum acquired two ‘Ebony Fire’ in 2015 and two ‘Ebony and Ivory’ in 2017, both located in the Rose Garden, plus one ‘Ebony Flame’ in 2017. 

Crapemyrtles have petals that resemble crimped crape fabric, combined with foliage and bark that resemble common myrtle; if you have a crapemyrtle in your own garden, remember not to commit “crape murder,” the humorous term for overpruning crapemyrtles! Enjoy the crapemyrtles year-round: their four-season interest includes showy flowers, seed capsules, cultivar-specific yellow-orange-red fall leaf color, and multitone exfoliating bark. Find the exact locations of all of the crapemyrtles at the Morris Arboretum at Collection Connection. 

Katherine has her Certificate in Botany from the New York Botanical Garden and is a botanical tour guide and freelance writer.