Crape Myrtle

The crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indie a) is predominantly an ornamental landscape plant that has found wide use in gardens and lawns across much of Florida and the southeastern United States, as well as in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, it is particularly well known as a roadside plant, and its beautiful white, pink, red, or purple flowers are often used to add an attractive border to many southern highways, It is native to Asia but has become established in Florida, particularly near the sites of old homesteads, along fcncerows, or in old fields.

The crape myrtle is a member of the I ,ythraceae or loosestrife faintly, a collection of more than 20 genera and 450 specics. Most members of the family are herbs or shrubs. The crape myrtle is Florida's only tree-sized member of this family that is counted as part of our naturalised flora- However, at least one other Lagerstroemia species is used for ornamental purposes.

Crape myrlle flowers are very showy and quite beautiful, which probably accounts for the plant's widespread popularity. They are borne in handsome panicles that extend well beyond the leafy branches and are present throughout the summer. The flowers typically have six clawed petals, each with a fringed outer edge. The entire inflorescence can be up u> 30 cm long and nearly as wide, making the crape myrtle a conspicuous pan of the landscape when in full bloom.


The teirazygia (Tetrazygia bicolor) is Florida's only woody species of the Melas-tomataceae, or me I as tome family. The family is a rather iargt: collection of about 200 genera and 4500 species of mostly tropical plants, many of which are native to South America. Only two of these genera occur naturally in the United Stales, both of which are represented in Florida. In addition to the state's single Tetrazygia, which is confined solely to the southern tip of the pen insula, the family is also represented in Florida by several species that are commonly referred to as meadow beauties, The latter plants, ail of which are members of the genus Rhexia, are herbaceous species that are most often found in seasonally wcL acidic soils such as Florida's extensive pi tie flatwoods community.

The tetrazygia has two growth forms in southern Florida, probably owins to its oc-


currence in two distinctive vegetative communities. In the pine lands, like those found in the Long Pine Key area of the Everglades National Park, the plant seldom exceeds the stature of a small, single-stemmed shrub. In the adjacent hammocks, however, it is known to reach heights of 10 m with a trunk diameter of 6 - 10 cm.

Like many other members of its family, the teira/ygia is most often noticed in spring and early summer because of its conspicuous and showy flowers. The blossoms are borne in large terminal clusters that extend well beyond the lop of the plant. Each one contains four or five bright white petals that sit atop a characteristic, urn-shaped calyx and encircle a mass of yellow stamens. When coupled wiih the plant's distinctive leaves, these flowers make the tetra/ygia an easy plant to identify.

The Myrtle Family

The myrtle family, or Myrtaceae, is a complex and confusing collection of plants represented by a I least seven genera in Florida, only some of which are native to the state. The family has undergone a rather long history of dramatic changes in iaxo-nomic classification. Exacting distinctions have been difficult to define for many of the family's genera and species, resulting in a wide range of synonymous scientific names.

The stoppers of the genus Eugenia probably exhibit the most inconsistency in their historical names. Currently, it is generally agreed that four Eugenia species inhabit southern Florida. Two of these, the white stopper (£\ axillaris > and Spanish stopper {E. faetida)* are common and widespread. The red-berry stopper (£. confusa), wirh characteristically long-pointed leaves, is only an occasional resident of hammocks and is not common. The red stopper (E. rhombea), w hich is most similar in appearance to the white stopper, is a rare species found very sparingly in the Keys, All are noted for their opposite, evergreen leaves, a characteristic which helps immensely in separating them from all but a handful of south Florida trees.

The twinberry stopper, or simply twinberry (Myrcianthes Jragrans)% is closely related to the genus Eugenia and was, until recently, known as Eugenia simpsonii. The twinberry is part of a small genus of less than 50 species that ranges chiefly in South America and the West Indies. It is found in Florida in hammocks of the southern peninsula.

The only other south Florida tree commonly referred to as a stopper is the long-stalked stopper (M osier a ion gipes). It, too, was once considered to be a part of the genus Eugenia. but was later classified in the same genus as the guava {Psidium gua-java). However, the most recent revision places it in the genus Most era. Like the tetrazygia, it has two growth forms. Some maintain that this difference in form is largely dependent upon habitat According to this theory, plants found growing in the pine lands seldom exceed 30 cm in height, while those in the hammocks lend to become trees up to about 4 m tall. In either event, Af, longipes is a native species with a short trunk and wiry, spreading branches. It takes its common name from its conspicuously long flower stalks.


I lie guava is a nonnative species from Central America that has escaped from cultivation and has become naturalized in southern Florida, it is best known for its pear-shaped yellow fruif which is high in vitamin C and has been used in making jellies, preserves, and beverages. Although the fruit of cultivated plants is good tasting and an important fruit crop, that ol escaped trees is usually of much poorer quality.

Two members of the myrtle family can be separated by the distinctive branching pattern of their leafy twigs. New branchlets of both the pale lidflower (Calyptrantfws pattens) and the myrtle-of-the-river (C. zuzygium) are produced in pairs at each leaf node, resulting in only two oppositely arranged leaves per twig, both of which are borne at i he terminus of the supporting branch let. This unique forking arrangement sets these plants apart from all of the state's other opposite-leaved trees or shrubs. Neither of these plants is considered common, but both may be readily found in hammocks of south Florida and the Keys.

Several species of nonnative Myrtaceae are commonly known as bottle brushes and are widely used as ornamental species. The most widespread of these is the cajeput or melaleuca tree (Melaleuca quinqttetwrvia); the others belong to the genus Callistemon*

The cajeput, which is distributed naturally primarily in Australia, was originally introduced into Florida as an ornamental species recommended for use in yards and parks to mark boundary lines or to add accent to woodland borders. It has since escaped from cultivation and is now extensively naturalized, often to the detriment of the state's native flora. It is particularly adapted to wet or moist areas and has become a troublesome weed species across much of the southern peninsula, i o date, the species has been almost impossible to eradicate* but research is currently being conducted to find uays to control the species biologically. It will be interesting to observe what long-term effects this tree will have as our native flora attempts to recover from the impact of Hurricane Andrew.

The cajeput takes its common name from combining the two Malaysian words for tree and white, a name which refers to the cajeput's whitish, peeling bark. In like manner, Linnaeus used the two Greek works for tree and white to fashion the first part of its scientific name; the second part of its scientific name refers to its typically five- Of sometimes seven-veined leaves. The curling bark, which is characteristic of the species, is somewhat reminiscent of the northern paper birch {Betula papyri/era) and has led to the additional common name paper bark tree. The melaleuca is easily seen along many south Florida highways and expressways and is not a difficult tree to identify,

Although the other bottle brush species are strictly ornamental plants and thus not included in Part n, it would be a major omission not to at least mention them here. At least four Callistemon species are cultivated widely in southern Florida, All are close relatives of the cajeput, hut none have become naturalized or are considered a problem for our native vegetation. The most often-seen species arc probably the showy bottle brush (C spectosus) and the weeping bottle brush (C ximinatis). Both are bushy, ever-

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