Barking Up the Right Tree

The beauty of unclothed deciduous trees includes one of their most overlooked but dramatic features: the bark. Especially in winter the many colors, textures and patterns of bark in selected species seem to take on a whole new beauty.

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Crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) is a fast-growing small shrub or tree that lends southern gardens added charm. Their long flowering season (in mid to late summer or early fall) and the variety of flower color gives this plant a wow factor. Many of them have great fall color. They are listed hardy in USDA Zones 7 to 10, but some are hardy in a sheltered location in Zone 6, and some gardeners grow them as perennials beyond the northern fringes of their hardiness zone. Their roots are much hardier than their tops; I have one that died to the ground, but came up the following years from the roots, just shorter. Crape myrtle concentrates its foliage near the top of its trunks, leaving its beautiful bark for all to enjoy at any time of year. Depending on the cultivar, the bark can be smooth gray, tan or even whitish; exfoliating combinations of browns and gray also occur.