Cardinal in a Crape Tree
On the first day of winter
a dear friend gave to me
a cardinal in a crape tree.
Ahh, the lovely crape myrtle, crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia species). More to be desired than seasonal bloom. The humble crape myrtle is an extrafloral nectary (EFN).
Extrafloral nectaries provide nectar producing glands, aside from those found in flowers. Designed as a supplemental food source for pollinators and insects when food is scarce or in extreme weather conditions.
According to Dr. Russell (Russ) F. Mizell III, Professor Emeritus, UF Extension Entomologist, “EFN may be valuable if not critical components in the ecology of landscapes. A great many opportunities exists to further our understanding of EFN in landscape systems as much remains to be understood about the roles EFN play.” Likewise, the crape myrtle aphid attracts predacious insects. These insects provide needed protein for baby birds lacking feathers or non-flying. Adult birds pick off insects and feed to the baby birds.
Full sun, more than 6 hours direct light, are required for blooming.
Good air circulation will minimize potential problems with powdery mildew. Crape myrtle do best in well drained, loose and slightly acidic soils. They do not tolerate salt water irrigation or salt spray. Young crape myrtle transplant easily. Irrigate until established. They are drought tolerant once established with low fertilization requirements.
Dozens of crape myrtle cultivars deliver colorful bloom and exfoliating bark. Smooth and mottled bark adds dimension and texture to the landscape. Dwarf cultivars max out at 5 feet. Trees cultivars may exceed 20 feet. Plan for full height, to avoid overhead wire and roof conflicts.
Crape myrtle tend to grow multiple stems. Prune at planting if tree form desired. Generally however they require little pruning.
My inspiration is both the season and the male cardinal as seen from the kitchen window. He moves from branch to branch on the crape myrtle. It’s a food source. And complements nut, seed and berry producing plants growing in the landscape.
Call 811, or online to confirm underground utility location before digging! Click for complete planting and care, including irrigation. In addition, there are other native Florida and exotic extrafloral nectaries. Click for a comprehensive list of species and families. Till next time, ya’ll have a good one and Happy Gardening.