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A deciduous tree 20 to 30 ft high, or a shrub, the bark of the trunk and older branches grey and smooth; young shoots glabrous, four-angled. Leaves opposite, alternate or in whorls of three, privet-like, mostly obovate, not toothed, glabrous, 1 to 21⁄2 in. long, 3⁄4 to 11⁄2 in. wide, very shortly stalked. Flowers produced from July to September in panicles terminating the current year’s growths, and 6 to 8 in. long by 3 to 5 in. wide. Each flower is 1 to 11⁄2 in. wide and the colour varies from pink to deep red on different plants; there is also a white-flowered form. Petals six, obovate, curiously crinkled, contracted at the base to a slender claw. Calyx bell-shaped, 1⁄3 to 1⁄2 in. long, green, glabrous, with six triangular pointed lobes, persisting during the fruiting stage. Stamens numerous, the slender style standing out beyond them. Bot. Mag., t. 405.
Native of China and Korea; introduced to Kew in 1759;’figured in the Botanical Magazine in 1798. Wilson found it in open grassy places and on cliffs at low altitudes from Central to W. China. It is a common garden shrub in lands with warm temperate climates. In the British Isles it is best known as a shrub for the cool greenhouse, where potted plants, cut hard back in spring, will bloom profusely on the young wood. Grown out-of-doors in a very sunny position it is hardy in the south of England, but blooms only when the summer has been consistently warm. A specimen at Borde Hill in Sussex, about 10 ft high, has lived in its present position for over sixty years and the following note on it by the owner is quoted from Borde Hill Trees (1935): It ‘grows in front of a wall about 3 ft high, consequently more than half the shrub is without protection. It flowered freely in 1911. Sir Edmund Loder told me that a plant produced flowers the same year at Leonardslee which had not bloomed for twenty years previously. The plant at Borde Hill next flowered in 1933. Its autumn colouring is invariably good and its leaves are retained for several days after assuming their rich tints.’ This plant flowered again after the hot summer of 1959; in 1969, perhaps owing to the late spring, flower-buds were set but failed to open.
Although the crape myrtle cannot be relied on to flower regularly in our climate it is worthy of further trial in southern and south-eastern England, as it grows quickly and flowers even when quite young. It is propagated by leafy cuttings placed in bottom-heat, or by imported seeds. Seedlings will flower in their second year.