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Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Friday - July 15, 2011

From: Washington, DC
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Non-Natives
Title: Need suggestions for alternatives for Crape Myrtle in Washington, DC.
Answered by: Jimmy Mills

QUESTION:

What can you recommend as native alternatives to the shorter (garden-sized) crape myrtle cultivars?

ANSWER:

To get an idea of the size of plants we need to look for, I consulted this link from North Carolina State University and found that dwarf cultivars of Crape Myrtle range from 5 to 20’.

The Houston Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas (NPSOT) has a program called NICE (Natives Instead of Common Exotics) that encourages people to utilize native plants in their landscape, and provides suggested alternatives for the exotics. Below is an excerpted list of “Bird and Butterfly Plants” which has several alternatives for crape myrtle.

Small Trees:
Use: 
Mexican Plum, Redbud, Green Hawthorn, Deciduous Holly, Cherry Laurel, Wild Crab Apple, American Holly, Red Buckeye, Sweet Bay Magnolia, Farkleberry, Smooth Sumac, Flame-Leaf Sumac, Tooth-Ache Tree
Instead of Exotics: 
Bradford Pear, Crape Myrtle, Wax Leaf Ligustrum, Red tip Photinia 
 
Medium Sized Trees:
Use: 
Red Buckeye, American Hop Hornbeam, Hornbeam, Gum Bumelia, Flowering Dogwood, Rough-leaf Dogwood,
Mexican Plum, Redbud, Carolina Buckthorn, Drummond Red Maple, Green Hawthorn, American Holly
Instead of Exotics:
Bradford Pear, Chinese Elm (also known as lacebark, Drake, Allee, Bosque Elm), Crape Myrtle, Red tip Photinia,
Chinese Tallow, Goldenrain Tree, Chinese Umbrella Tree (also known as Chinaberry Tree or Melia), Mimosa,

This sort of looks overwhelming but if we utilize our Native Plant Database, we might can make it manageable.

First, lets select a few plants that could be possibilities. ( Redbud, Cherry Laurel, Flame-leaf sumac, Deciduous Holly). Now go to the the Database and enter each plant name (one at a time) in the “Search native plant database” box. Click the “go” button, and you will get the NPIN page for that plant. Things to look for on the page: the scientific name of the plant, a description of the plant that includes its mature size, growth requirements such as amount of water, light needed, and soil type, and other plant characteristics. Scroll down to the “Additional Resources” box and click on the plant name next to USDA plants. The page that comes up contains a distribution map that shows the geographical areas where the plant grows.
Do this for all of the plants on our short list, and if you are still having fun, continue on through the long list and see what strikes your fancy.

Our Suppliers Directory can help you locate businesses in your area that sell the plants you select .

 

From the Image Gallery


Eastern redbud
Cercis canadensis

Cherry laurel
Prunus caroliniana

Prairie flameleaf sumac
Rhus lanceolata

Possumhaw
Ilex decidua

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