Epicormic Buds on Crapemyrtle

— Written By and last updated by Jami Hooper
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Epicormic buds are dormant buds found along stems, and are normally not easy to see unless you’re looking at an exceptionally thin-barked plant such as a crapemyrtle. These buds can be activated to form epicormic branches, which are often noticed on trees that have been damaged by construction or other disturbance, or stressed by heavy topping. The latter response includes heavily pruned crapemyrtles.

To determine for myself if the bumps (far left in the photo) were epicormic buds, I made a topping cut along a crapemyrtle stem in the winter, and then waited to see how the tree would respond once the growing season was underway. Sure enough, by the third week of April it was clear that a number of these bumps were beginning to produce green color and even the beginnings of new shoots.

The relevance of epicormic growth to homeowners and landscape professionals is that epicormic attachments are not strong attachments. While it has been stated by some that topping makes crapemyrtles stronger and more wind resistant, just the opposite is the case.

Oftentimes in the spring, Extension agents field questions regarding thin crapemyrtle shoots that appear to have fallen off or been clipped off by insects. Invariably, the crapemyrtle in question was topped earlier in the season, and the resulting epicormic shoots are so weakly attached that they can actually be blown off in a strong breeze. As the epicormic shoots age, they aren’t likely to be blown off the tree, but at the same time they’ll never be as strongly attached as normally developed branches.

While this may not matter a great deal with crapemyrtles – other than the lost aesthetics and potential size of the plant – it’s a very big problem when it comes to large growing trees. A topped pecan tree, for example, will become increasingly unsound as the resulting epicormic branches become heavier and longer from year to year. Not only is the poor attachment a problem, but the large cuts associated with topping also cannot compartmentalize properly, and this brings stem decay into the picture.

epicormic buds

Left to right: Dormant epicormic buds on a crapemyrtle stem in winter; following a winter topping cut, the buds begin to emerge and green up in mid April; the beginning of shoot extension; epicormic branch two years after topping.