When I posted a blog concerning the value of crepe myrtle to wildlife, a blogger posed her concern that I had wrongfully maligned this popular ornamental, and wondered what the basis of my opinion was.
It seems when crepe myrtle is blooming in her yard bees converge on the plant’s colorful flowers. She went on the say that when she deadheads the first crop of blooms to encourage a second blooming, when a new crop of blossoms bursts forth the bees return to once again feast.
To say the least, I was surprised to learn that the bees in her backyard are drawn to crepe myrtle blossoms in large numbers. The crepe myrtles that grow in my neck of the woods are rarely visited by bees. This could be explained by the fact that she grows varieties such as Lipan, Tuscarora, and Dynamite. I am not familiar with them; they may produce an abundance of pollen and/or nectar. I do not know the name of the crepe myrtle rooted in my yard; however, I am sure it does not produce much of value to pollinators. I have seen wild pollinators feeding on the honeydew secreted by the aphids that live on the plants.
I should also mention I have seen American goldfinches eat crepe myrtle seeds.
In addition to producing little food, crepe myrtle is an exotic plant is invasive in many sections of Georgia. When it “walks away” from the place where it is planted, it can usurp habitat originally occupied by native plants. Typically, the native plants it supplants are of more value to wildlife than exotics.
I am not the only wildlife biologist that does not consider crepe myrtle to be a great wildlife plant. Here is what Dr. Doug Tallamy, professor and chair of the University of Delaware’s Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, has to say about crepe myrtle, “Crepe myrtle is an enormously popular landscape plant because it has a nice habit, beautiful flowers, and lovely bark. But it contribute almost nothing to the food webs in your garden. If every plant is your yard were a crepe myrtle, you would have no food webs, and, thus, no birds, butterflies or other beneficial wildlife”
If you enjoy the beauty offered by crepe myrtles in your yard, and the varieties you plant provide bees and other wildlife with food, continue to cultivate them. Meanwhile, plant some native plants that evolved alongside the native pollinators and other wildlife in your area. If you do, I think you will find they will be of great value to your backyard wildlife neighbors. In addition, you will be contributing to restoring the natural ecology of your yard.
I love crape myrtles but I hate the off-shoots that come up in my yard. I have a very old crape behind my house that is very old. Many people remark about how beautiful it is. I have many bird feeders also in the back yard and the birds love to feed and then fly to the drape myrtle to either eat or rest. Just recently finished your book, and loved it.
You mention (I’m guessing by accident) wax myrtle being an invasive, but it’s a native (Myrica/Morella cerifera, specifically).
Thank you very much for bringing my mistake to my attention. That was a bad mistake–I love wax myrtle as it is a super wildlife plant.
This article is confusing in that it mentions both wax myrtle and crepe myrtle, one being native but not the other.
Thanks for pointing out my error. I have made a change in the blog. I really appreciate your noting this mistake. I hope you will continue to let me know when I make a mistake–I want to make the blog as accurate as I can.
I will let you know if I see anything else. I apologize for duplicating my message but I wasn’t sure it went through the first time. I follow each and every one of your posts and enjoy them very much (and share them in my Facebook group).
I just posted a comment but I’m not sure it was accepted. This article is confusing since it mentions the native wax myrtle and the non-native crepe myrtle. Could you clarify?
It’s a little confusing that you reference both crepe myrtle (non-native) and wax myrtle (native). Was that intentional? If so, it makes less sense. Thanks!
could you recommend good crepe myrtle alternatives?
The chaste tree is one you might try. Check with your extension agent to see if the chaste tree is invasive in your neck of the woods. If not, you might consider the following varieties of chaste trees. They were developed by horticulturalists at the University of Georgia. They are used by butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. I have not personally tried any of them yet.
Here they are: Daytona Heat Danica Pink, Daytona Heat TM Pretty Blue, Pinnacles and Littler Madam.
I would recommend something like Serviceberry or American Plum if those are native to your area.
Please note Willie’s comments – they are great. I might add that in Georgia a great plum is our native Chickasaw plum.