Crape myrtles are the Southern signature flowering tree of the summer months. They have been in the United States since the days of George Washington in the 1770s and 1780s. We are all very familiar with the numerous cultivars in the marketplace. Most of these are hybrids resulting from crosses of Lagerstroemia indica and Lagerstroemia fauriei. Many originated from breeding efforts at the U.S. National Arboretum and include the popular cultivars ‘Natchez’, ‘Muskogee’, ‘Sioux’, ‘Tonto’, ‘Tuscarora’ and many more. The first L. indica x fauriei hybrid was ‘Basham’s Party Pink’, which was released in 1965 by legendary Texas nurseryman Lynn Lowery.

Many nursery, landscape and garden center professionals may not realize that we have cultivars of the Japanese crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia fauriei) available. And so we’re taking a look at these less-appreciated selections. These cultivars primarily originated from seed and cuttings sent to the United States from Japan in the 1950s and 1960s. Some in the trade include ‘Fantasy’, ‘Townhouse’ and ‘Kiowa’. A lesser-known individual tree that also dates to this timeline is planted at Akin’s Nursery in Shreveport, Louisiana; it’s been named ‘Bayou View’. It may be the national champion single trunk L. fauriei. Hopefully this special tree will eventually be released jointly by Stephen F. Austin University Gardens and the Louisiana State University AgCenter.

Name: Lagerstroemia fauriei

Common name: Japanese crape myrtle

Hardiness: Zones 6b to 9

Mature height: 30 to 35 feet

Mature spread: 15 to 20 feet

Classification: Deciduous, summer-flowering tree

Insects: Minimum (some aphid resistance; possible crape myrtle bark scale)

Diseases: Highly resistant to leaf spot fungus and powdery mildew

Landscape use: Specimen trees, alleys, background summer canopy, street trees

Ornamental characteristics: Multitrunked arching habit; small white flowers during summer months; cinnamon, brown, red exfoliating bark; brightly colored yellow to orange fall foliage in more northern adapted hardiness zones

Japanese crape myrtles are dominant and large growers. The disease resistance in the modern cultivars comes from L. fauriei. Trees will rival the tall-growing ‘Natchez’ and ‘Muskogee’ for height in the landscape. As with all crape myrtles, the Japanese types need full sun to achieve the best flowering performance. Well-drained soil with a pH range of 6.0 to 7.0 is recommended. Drought tolerance is good. Leaves can be slightly larger than L. indica and hybrids.

Flowers are less pronounced and smaller, and the bloom cycle is shorter than for hybrids and L. indica cultivars. The bark of Japanese crape myrtles is most impressive, even more so than the exfoliating bark that we know of the popular ‘Natchez’ – darker and more colorful with blends of cinnamon, brown and red. Single trunk forms are especially handsome.

Fertilize in the landscape in early spring when foliage growth commences. When pruning, use thinning cuts as compared to topping cuts.

Growers should be aware that propagation of Japanese crape myrtles can be more challenging. While most crape myrtles can be rooted with 95 to 100 percent success, softwood and semi-hardwood cuttings of L. fauriei root slower, and you will have a smaller percentage of rooting success.

L. fauriei cultivars to consider:

Bayou View – beautiful single trunk tree located on the bayou behind Akin’s Nursery in Shreveport, Louisiana. Dates to the late 1950s or early 1960s. Being propagated and evaluated by horticulturists at SFA Gardens, Nacogdoches, Texas, and LSU AgCenter, Hammond, Louisiana.

Fantasy – probably most widely known and may be best performing cultivar. Selection made at JC Raulston Arboretum in 1983 and registered in 1994. Red bark. Good flowering for a L. fauriei.

Kiowa – originated at the U.S. National Arboretum. 1994 release. Was one of nine cuttings received from Japan in 1968.

Townhouse – seedling of ‘Fantasy’ from JC Raulston Arboretum. Darkest red bark of the cultivars. Selected in 1984, introduced in 1986, registered in 1994.

Read more: Guide to Northern Crapemyrtle