1759 The naturalist, and Director of the Swedish East India Company, Magnus von Lagerstrom died.
In his work, Magnus was a friend and patron of Carl Linnaeus. During his travels, he supplied Linnaeus with plants, and in return, Linnaeus named the genus for Crape Myrtle after him - Lagerstroemia.
Before we get into the plant details of the Crape Myrtle, we need to talk about the spelling controversy. In the South, the spelling is Crepe, as in crepe paper. This spelling supposedly came about because the flowers resemble crepe paper. But, everywhere else, it is spelled Crape like Grape.
Now, botanists have recorded close to 50 known species of Crape Myrtle. Crape Myrtles are a member of the loosestrife family. Their size can vary significantly from one foot to a hundred feet tall. Crape myrtles are robust and can put up with severe growing conditions - like high heat, humidity, and drought. (Basically, what many parts of the country are putting up with right now)
Their hardiness in sweltering conditions gives us a clue as to their origins; Crape Myrtles are native to the Indian subcontinent, southeast Asia, northern Australia, and parts of Oceania.
In China, the Crape Myrtle is known as the "Monkey Tree." Crape Myrtle trunks are slippery, which means the monkeys have a tough time climbing them. The Chinese also called the Crape Myrtle "The Tree of 100 days" in reference to the long bloom time. Gardeners especially appreciate the Crape Myrtle's extraordinarily long bloom time. Once the plant starts blooming in the middle of the summer, it will continue to produce blossoms well into fall.
Medicinally, Crape Myrtle is used for constipation. The leaves, bark, and even the blossoms are high in fiber. And, herbalists know how to make a purgative decoction with Crape Myrtle leaves.