Native Hydrangea now in bloom

Hydrangea is a flowering shrub with several varieties native to the US that grow well in our area. The Annabelle Hydrangea, the most widely planted cultivar of the native smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), displays large white flower heads nearly a foot in diameter. It is the more cold-hardy than other cultivars and survives well in Frederick County. Annabelle blooms annually in early to mid-summer, even after cold winters or when pruned intensely. Hardy and prolific in the wild, the Annabelle hydrangea will spread through its root system from nodes that send out runners called stolons. It typically achieves a height of 3 feet to as much as 10 feet. It has opposite, serrated leaves about 4 to 6 inches in length with a woody stem displaying peeling bark. Annebelle hydrangea grows well in moist soil in hardwood forests and along stream banks.

Annabelle hydrangea near Rock Creek

Photo by Ginny Brace

Another common native in our area is Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) which can grow to as high as 25 feet if unattended. Similar to Annabelle and other hydrangea it spreads thought root runners or stolons. The leaves are lobed and can look like large versions of oak leaves, up to a foot long and almost as wide. The large leaves are more common when the shrub is grown in the shade, while the leaves are smaller on plants that grow in full sun. The top of the leaves are green or yellow-green, and the undersides are silvery white. In fall, Oakleaf hydrangea leaves turn to colorful reds to purple that mostly stay on into the winter along with its dried flower heads. Older stems show a peeling or flaky brownish bark, while young shoots have the appearance of felt. Oakleaf hydrangea has long-lasting clusters of blooms up to a foot tall and 6 inches in diameter that bloom through the summer and fall. Initially white, the blooms typically will turn pinkish by fall, and will last as brown, dried clusters into the winter.

As native plants, these varieties of hydrangea require little maintenance to be a beautiful addition to gardens or woodlands. The flowers are a good source of forage for bees from late spring through the summer, with the oakleaf hydrangea’s long-lasting leaves providing good cover for birds and small mammals through the winter.

Nature Notes for 7/7/2013