Here’s a beautiful immigrant from India to adorn your garden with exquisite flowers. I’m referring to the ornamental tree, pride of India (Lagerstroemia indica and L. speciosa), or orgullo de la India in Spanish.
This beauty was introduced into the tropical Americas during the colonization period, and has for centuries been a popular ornamental tree for avenues, parks and home gardens. Much like the orchid tree, pride of India provides spectacular blossoms for a good part of the year. The two species are often confused. L. indica, or crape myrtle as it is known in English, blooms in white, pink, red or purple flowers, while pride of India or queen crape myrtle (L. speciosa) blooms in colors of pink or mauve. In Costa Rican nurseries, they commonly lump them together as orgullo de la India.
You can collect seed capsules from local trees in your community for planting in the home nursery. Mature seeds are planted in plastic nursery bags with average soil and kept well watered in a shady environment. As they germinate, move them into the sun and transplant them to a permanent site before they become root-bound. More experienced gardeners can try mist propagation of woody stem cuttings.
These hardy, fast-growing trees do well in a wide range of soils, particularly tropical red clay soils, and reach 20-30 feet tall when fully grown, so give them five meters of space between other plants, buildings or trees. Full-sun locations with good soil drainage are best for healthy trees and optimal flowering.
You may have to water young seedlings weekly in the dry season in the first and second year of growth, but later these trees will survive well without irrigation. Occasional pruning of the leading growth keeps the trees dense and compact, and a yearly fertilization of aged compost and soluble organic fertilizers will improve growth, vigor and blooming. Experts suggest keeping the lawn grass and weeds back from the root zone to promote healthier trees.
Pride of India trees are very hardy and rarely have significant pest problems. Minor infestations of aphids and scales can be controlled with insecticidal soap solutions (ISK 45 SL by Quinagro, 448-5186), while mildew and fungal problems can be curbed with products made from citrus-seed-oil extracts (KILOL by Citribio, 438-5080).
Beautiful, strong and well adapted to our tropical conditions, pride of India rates high on the list of eco-garden plants and makes a most welcome addition to the tropical home garden.
For more information on tropical home gardens and tropical medicinal plants, visit www.thenewdawncenter.org or e-mail [email protected].