By Dennis O'Brien
February 3, 2016
A chance discovery by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists means that a striking type of pink crape myrtle could soon be gracing lawns and gardens in South Florida. Commonly called Pride-of-India or queen's crape myrtle, Lagerstroemia speciose is native to India and Southeast Asia and has been cultivated in tropical areas worldwide. L. speciosa may have the largest, brightest, and most striking flowers among the dozens of commercially-available crape myrtles, says Alan W. Meerow, an ARS geneticist at the Subtropical Horticulture Research Station (SHRS) in Miami, Florida.
Meerow calls the new release 'Big Pink' and says that it will grow up to 19 feet in 5 years and flower from March through the end of summer or into fall. Big Pink is not as cold hardy as other crape myrtle varieties, which are found as far north as Pennsylvania, limiting its range to South Florida.
Meerow and his colleagues have grown and cultivated Big Pink since 2005 when they came upon a street planting of queen's crape myrtle trees with pink, purple, light lavender and near-white flowers on an avenue near ARS facilities in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico. The team collected seeds and started growing Big Pink outdoors at the SHRS and ultimately selected six seedlings. Of those six, one of the two pink-flowered trees stood out for its larger, more brightly colored blooms. Researchers established cuttings in varying soil types and over 10 years found no problems with pests or diseases.
Big Pink will soon join dozens of crape myrtle varieties that are now being sold in South Florida's nurseries and garden centers. Cuttings are currently only available for research purposes. Once more Big Pinks are grown, expect to see them at local nurseries.
ARS is the USDA's chief intramural scientific research agency.
Read more about this research in the February 2016 issue of AgResearch magazine.