Painting Ruston Red: the city’s enduring crepe myrtles

By Wesley Harris

A gnarled and knotty crepe myrtle in the Downtown Historic District is one the city’s oldest trees. It shades the city’s oldest house, constructed in 1884, the year Ruston was born.

There’s hardly a single city block in Ruston lacking a crepe myrtle tree. And why not? The “100-day flower” is Ruston’s official flower. Several years ago, the City of Ruston  added hundreds of crepe myrtle trees to parks, the sports complex and other public properties. They joined thousands of crepe myrtles planted over time by individuals and civic organizations. The practice of beautifying Ruston with the Chinese import goes back to the city’s founding.

In 1970, the City Beautification Committee held a contest to select an official flower for Ruston. Residents were asked to nominate their favorite bloom, giving reasons why it should be selected. Mrs. A. C. Morris, resident of the oldest house in Ruston, recommended the crepe myrtle. She mentioned she and her husband admired a lovely old crepe myrtle behind her West Alabama Avenue home first built in Vienna in 1876 and dismantled and moved to Ruston when the town was created in 1884.

The committee agreed, selecting the watermelon red variety of the crepe myrtle as Ruston’s official flower. 

A lengthy list of the advantages of the crepe myrtle was prepared from Mrs. Morris’s nomination and from observations by the Ruston Garden Club:

1. Easily grown

2. Blooms when nothing else does

3. Long blooming period

4. Beautiful display when blooming

5. Heat, drought, and cold resistant

6. Mostly disease free

7. Can be pruned as bush or grown as a tree

8. Available in various colors

9. Lives for generations

10. Potential to replace disappearing shade trees

11. Colorful fall foliage

12. Already plentiful in Ruston

The Ruston Garden Club had been planting crepe myrtles since 1964, a practice continued today. The club’s trees memorialize deceased members and honor veterans, police officers, and firefighters. The Daughters of the American Revolution and local schools have used crepe myrtles in Arbor Day and Earth Day commemorations. Hundreds of crepe myrtles provide summertime color in the city-owned Greenwood Cemetery and the new sports complex.

Mrs. Morris’s tree still lives today, one of the oldest plantings in Ruston. Over 100 years old, the tough old tree was one the first of thousands of crepe myrtles to adorn Ruston. 


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