New Texas Superstar introduced: Basham’s Party Pink crape myrtle

COLLEGE STATION — Crape myrtles have been one of the most popular ornamental plants in the U.S. since they were introduced around 1790 by the French botanist Andre Michaux, said Dr. Bill Welch, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service landscape horticulturist in College Station.  A Texas-born variety – Basham’s Party Pink – is being promoted as a new Texas Superstar for its disease resistance, vigor and colorful display, according to a horticulture expert.

Basham’s Party Pink crape myrtle is one of the best medium-to-large varieties for Texas and the South, Welch said.

From Welch’s perspective as a plant historian who appreciates the hybridization of old and new varieties, Basham’s Party Pink has it all.

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Basham’s Party Pink crape myrtle were introduced in the 1960s and are now classified as a new Texas Superstar for its hardiness, disease resistance and colorful display. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo provided by Dr. Bill Welch)

“In my observations over the years, it’s the best of all crape myrtles of that size,” he said. “It has nice lavender, silvery-pink blooms and attractive, peeling bark on the trunks. It has cold hardiness and mildew resistance, which is important in the South, and is a low maintenance, water-efficient tree that deserves to be promoted more.”

Basham’s Party Pink is named after Bill Basham, a horticulturist for the city of Houston in the 1960s-70s.  Basham was credited with crossing a Japanese variety, Lagerstroemia fauriei, that showed resistance to mildew and also displayed desired aesthetic qualities such as exfoliating bark and beautiful foliage, with a crape myrtle variety common in the South, Lagerstroemia indica, Welch said.

Lynn Lowrey, a Houston nursery owner and friend of Basham’s,  introduced the variety to the nursery trade in 1965, making Basham’s Party Pink the granddaddy of Texas hybrid crape myrtles and a time-tested Texas Superstar. Lowrey and Basham thought the crape myrtle cultivar Near East was the other parent. Near East has large head-like flowers and is smaller in stature than typical crape myrtles, about 10-12 feet tall.

“It is, however, one of the most spectacular of all the crape myrtles with a waterfall-like display when in full bloom,” Welch said.

Basham’s Party Pink can be grown as a single or multiple trunk specimen that matures with beautiful, fluted, smooth bark, which exfoliates in shallow plates to expose predominantly light tans, gray and silver-gray bark, highlighted with some reddish brown undertones. The canopy is covered during  spring to early summer with one or more flushes of large, soft, lavender-pink flower clusters.

The dark green foliage appears to have inherited some resistance to pests and diseases from its L. fauriei  parentage while the cultivar has a lesser propensity for seed pods than some other hybrids within its L. indica parentage, he said.

It’s best to plant the tree in the fall or early spring, but plants can be readily established from containers or balled-and-burlap at any time of year with appropriate irrigation, Welch said. The tree should be watered during establishment and during drought.

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Horticulturist Bill Basham crossed a hardy Japanese crape myrtle with a traditional Southern variety to create Basham’s Party Pink crape myrtle in the early 1960s. Basham, photographed in the mid-1970s, kneels beside a hybridized tree that carries his name. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo provided by Dr. Bill Welch)

Plant trees in mostly sunny areas where there is good air movement to help reduce foliar disease problems, Welch said. Avoiding direct irrigation spray on the tree’s foliage will also reduce disease incidence and reduce the potential for foliar damage where salty irrigation water is a problem. The tree is tolerant of all soils, except very alkaline soil, as long as it drains well.

Basham’s Party Pink is best utilized as an ornamental flowering tree or small shade tree near patios and outdoor entertainment areas. They are also good along streets if trained in cut flower arrangements, or in very large landscape containers. The trees’ bark, trunk and branch architecture can be nicely highlighted with night lighting.

To be designated a Texas Superstar, a plant must not only be beautiful but must also perform well for consumers and growers throughout the state, Welch said. Superstars must be easy to propagate, which should ensure the plants are not only widely available throughout Texas but also reasonably priced.

“Basham’s Party Pink is a particularly nice, tough crape myrtle,” Welch said. “There are so many crape myrtle varieties on the market, we just feel this one deserves wider acceptance.”

Texas Superstar is a registered trademark owned by AgriLife Research, a state agency that is part of the Texas A&M University System. A list of wholesalers and retailers who stock Texas Superstar plants and labels can be found at http://texassuperstar.com/.