The crape myrtle has become the standard of medium size trees to plant in the landscape. Yes, crape myrtles are easy to produce, easy to grow, and very inexpensive to purchase. As gardeners, we are looking for something different, something that would make a neighbor stop and say, “That is a beautiful tree. What is the name of that? Where did you get it?” To get this kind of response from your neighbors, try substituting crape myrtles with a vitex or a larger growing bottle brush. (Scientific names are listed respectively Vitex agnus-castus, and Callistemon citrinus)
The vitex is also very similar to the crape myrtle in that it has a dramatic amount of blooms occurring at one time. Its gnarly angular branching often resembles the structure of a dwarf crape myrtle, such as the Acoma Weeping White. Though the vitex does not have a similar floret of blooms like the crape myrtles do, it does produce a very distinct spike that comes in an array of purples and a few whites. If you are lucky, you might be able to come across a nice pink color at your local nursery. These gorgeous flower spikes will attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees.
There is nothing like sitting under a full grown weeping bottle brush tree. Much like a willow, its weeping or hanging growth habit makes it seem like you are sitting inside of a partially open dome rather than underneath a shade tree. Bottle brush, like the vitex has a wonderful display of flowers in the early to late spring. In addition to the beautiful red flowers, the tree attracts an abundance of wildlife such as birds, butterflies, hummingbirds, and honey bees.
There are many other alternatives to crape myrtles that are just as easy to grow and pleasing to look at. Be sure to always consider the size of the tree you choose and the amount of room that you have to allow that tree to grow. If you are considering planting a crape myrtle or other alternatives, then plant as soon as possible, and don’t wait until the weather heats up, as this will help to increase the tree’s chance of survival.
The LSU AgCenter and the LSU College of Agriculture