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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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Tuesday - July 23, 2013

From: Texarkana, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Managing Roadsides, Planting, Trees
Title: Suggestions for street trees for Texarkana TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Texarkana, TX, is going to replace a few and add some new street trees downtown. The engineers specified crape myrtle. When I asked if they would consider native trees instead, I was told they thought crape myrtle is native since it's seen all over the south and didn't really believe me that it's not. I have a chance to offer suggestions for a small tree that will not grow a dense canopy, will be shorter rather than taller, will bloom, and have an interesting trunk as crape myrtles do. (BTW, I think it should be spelled "crepe" but most people don't do it that way.) I checked your plant database found Redbud (Mexican and Texas), Mexican plum, and cherry laurel. Do you know of any successful Texas experience with using these plants as street trees (full sun, heat, irrigated but somewhat dry conditions)? Is it even worth my efforts to get them to use native trees rather than the nursery standard crape myrtles since this isn't really habitat it's streetscape? Texarkana, AR, uses Little Gem Magnolia for its street trees. What do you think of magnolias for street trees? Texarkana's project uses TXDOT grant funds; do you have a list of plant material you have already coordinated with or gotten approved by TXDOT to make this an easier sell? Thanks for your help.

ANSWER:

If you search the Internet on Lagerstroemia indica, you will get common names of Crape Myrtle, Crepe Myrtle, crapemyrtle and crepemyrtle. From Wikipedia "Lagerstroemia indica (Crape myrtle, Crepe myrtle) is a species in the genus Lagerstroemia in the family Lythraceae from China, Korea, Japan and Indian Subcontinent."

Everyone has their own opinion of the correct spelling. There is one native plant, Malpighia glabra (Acerola), which has as its alternate common names Acerola, Barbados Cherry, Manzanita and Wild Crapemyrtle and belongs to the family Malpighiaceae. Except insofar as both are small blooming trees they are not even closely related. According to this USDA Plant Profile Map this plant grows mostly on the southern tip of Texas.

We do, however, understand the misconception that the Lagerstroemia indica is native. We had family living close to Texarkana TX and dug up a "start" off a crape myrtle which had been dug up out in the East Texas woods. We grew that tree in North Central Texas for many years equally convinced it was native because we had seen others growing in those same woods. Here is an article on the tree from the USDA Forest Service which says that propagation is by cuttings or seeds so we can possible blame birds who ate and then expelled the seeds for the plants in the woods. That article also points out that the trees are very susceptible to aphids and powdery mildew.

To answer your question about native alternatives as street trees, we will direct you to our Native Plant Database, going to Recommended Native Plants by State. On the outline of Texas on that map, click on East Texas, which will give you a list of 133 plants native to your area. When we selected on the sidebar on the right side of the page, we chose on "tree" for Habit and 12-36 ft. in height, which gave us a list of 18, from which we suggest the following trees:

Carpinus caroliniana (American hornbeam)

Cercis canadensis var. texensis (Texas redbud)

Chionanthus virginicus (White fringetree)

Cornus drummondii (Roughleaf dogwood)

Crataegus marshallii (Parsley hawthorn)

Frangula caroliniana (Carolina buckthorn)

Ilex opaca (American holly)

Prunus caroliniana (Cherry laurel)

We are afraid we have no particular influence with TxDOT, nor have we any lists coordinated with them for street trees. You could follow each plant link to our webpage on that plant to find out growing conditions, propagation instructions, etc. from which you could perhaps make selling points on certain trees; certainly one selling point would be that they are native and therefore adapted by millennia of experience with the soils, climate and rainfall of your area. That is the whole point of Mr. Smarty Plants' service - to encourage the growth, propagation and protection of plants native not only to North America but to the area in which they are being grown; in your case, Bowie County, TX.

 

From the Image Gallery


Barbados cherry
Malpighia glabra

American hornbeam
Carpinus caroliniana

Texas redbud
Cercis canadensis var. texensis

White fringetree
Chionanthus virginicus

Roughleaf dogwood
Cornus drummondii

Parsley hawthorn
Crataegus marshallii

Carolina buckthorn
Frangula caroliniana

American holly
Ilex opaca

Carolina cherry-laurel
Prunus caroliniana

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