July's tree of the month is the common crape myrtle, Lagerstroemia indica, a very popular small, deciduous tree which is abundant throughout the South. The crapemyrtle is a non-native species, originally from Asia, that was brought over in the late 1700s to the United States for its ornamental value. This small, deciduous tree has a beautiful array of showy flowers in the summer months which can be seen now in multiple different variety of colors of pinks, purples, reds, and white. It has been cultivated and bred over the years with over hundreds of different varieties that are commercially available. They are a very hardy tree that can survive and thrive in many different types of conditions which has been the reason it has been widely used as an urban tree throughout the years.
With all this being said, the urban forestry team is promoting larger, native shade trees and moving away from the planting of the crape myrtles. Because of the crape myrtle's hardiness, beauty, and overpopluarity, it has been planted in very high numbers across many cities. Jacksonville in particular has around 25% of the street trees that are crape myrtles. The city of Jacksonville's urban forestry team has a goal of a healthy, diverse urban forest. the crape myrtle is a non-native species, and although it has little invasive potential, it is planting in such high numbers by humans that is it now at a very high percentage of our urban forest. Another misconception is the practice of 'topping' crape myrtles that is seen throughout the city, wherein people will cut the top off of the stems of crape myrtles. this is not a good practice and before pruning a crape myrtle, homeowner's should look up resources for proper pruning techniques. For additional information on the practice of over planting of the crape myrtle, find this paper written by our associate urban forest Todd Little here: