Species of the genus Lagerstroemia L., commonly referred to as crapemyrtles, are native to Southeast Asia along with Indo-Malaysia and have long been cultivated for timber and as ornamentals. Confusion exists on the exact number of crapemyrtle species with reports ranging from 56 (Furtado and Srisuko, 1969) to 80 (Cabrera, 2004). Most species of Lagerstroemia have petite, unremarkable, pale white to lavender flowers. A few species such as L. speciosa (L.) Pers. and L. indica L. have larger more colorful flowers with ornamental appeal.
Crapemyrtles are one of the most popular groups of small flowering trees in mild temperate landscapes because of ease of production, adaptation to summer climate fluctuations, long summer flowering cycle, and ease of maintenance. Many clones are available in a broad range of growth habits, vigor, flower colors, pest tolerances, and bark traits to service various landscape objectives (Knox, 2000). Commercial crapemyrtle production in the United States is based on asexual propagation of named clones (Byers, 1997).
Crapemyrtles cultivated in the United States are primarily selections of L. indica and hybrids between Lagerstroemia fauriei Koehne and L. indica (Wang et al., 2011). Early domestic selections resulted from chance seedlings of L. indica hybridizations chosen for interesting horticultural traits (Egolf and Andrick, 1978). More recent crapemyrtle breeding efforts, especially programs by the U.S. National Arboretum, which has released more than 30 cultivars over the past 50 years, have focused on crapemyrtle resistance to diseases such as powdery mildew (Erysiphe lagerstroemiae E. West) and combinations of other desirable horticultural traits (Pooler, 2006; Pooler and Dix, 1999). Incorporating other species such as L. fauriei and Lagerstroemia limii Merr. (L. chekiangensis Cheng) into crapemyrtle breeding has expanded the genetic base for enhanced disease and pest resistance in modern cultivars (Pounders et al., 2007).
‘Ebony Embers’, ‘Ebony Fire’, ‘Ebony Flame’, ‘Ebony Glow’, and ‘Ebony and Ivory’ are cultivars that are predominantly L. indica in heritage that combine persistent black–purple leaves and a range of flower colors with intermediate growth habits. New leaves of several other cultivars such as ‘White Chocolate’, ‘Rhapsody in Pink’, ‘Burgundy Cotton’, and ‘Pink Velour’ initially display high levels of dark leaf pigmentation that fade away with maturity and summer heat. Our Ebony selections maintain their unique foliage color until senescence. The first cultivar with persistent dark leaves throughout the season was ‘Chocolate Mocha’ (sold under the Delta Jazz trademark) (Knight and McLaurin, 2010), which is the male parent of the Ebony series. ‘Ebony Embers’, ‘Ebony Fire’, ‘Ebony Flame’, ‘Ebony Glow’, and ‘Ebony and Ivory’ combine darker, more saturated black leaf color with a range of flower colors. Additional dark leaf cultivars that have recently been released include ‘PIILAG-V’ (trademarked as Midnight Magic) and ‘PIILAG-IV’ (Moonlight Magic), which presumably derive their dark foliage traits from ‘Chocolate Mocha’ as well (T. Rinehart, personal communication).
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