Plant of the Week
Latin: Hydrangea quercifolia
Shrubs that flower in the shade in the middle of summer are about as rare as the proverbial
hen’s teeth, yet the oakleaf hydrangea does that, and so much more.
This deciduous shrub grows up to 6 feet tall and 7 feet wide with a coarse and bold character. Its leaves take the shape of a black oak leaf, except they are two times larger, often growing to 10 inches. In the fall, the foliage turns a beautiful red to maroon color. One of the nicest features of the oakleaf hydrangea is its many trunks continually peel away, leaving behind trunks in various shades of cinnamon, orange and brown.
The flowers of oakleaf hydrangea are produced in July in fat, terminal clusters from 6 to 12 inches long. Oakleaf hydrangea flowers begin life as a creamy white, but during the next month, they change to a light and then dark pink. By October, the flower heads change to a paper-bag brown and are excellent for dried flower arrangements.
The oakleaf hydrangea was first discovered and named by John Bartram in the latter half of the 1700s, while he and his son William were exploring southern Georgia and Florida. Bartram was a self taught botanist who was the first to ship many of our native plants back to an eager English gardening public which simply couldn’t get enough of this country’s floral bounty.
Oakleaf hydrangea has a native range from the Carolinas to northern Georgia and across to Mississippi. While widely considered a native plant, it is not found wild in Arkansas.
Oakleaf Hydrangea is one of the five plants that were chosen as a 1999 Arkansas Select plant. The Arkansas Select plants were chosen from the group of plants nominated by experts across the state such as nurserymen, greenhouse producers and university and extension personnel. These plants were judged to do well across the state, to be relatively underused in gardens and to be pest free. All five Arkansas Select plants will be available from most Arkansas greenhouses and nurseries this spring at the appropriate planting season.
The name "hydrangea" translates from its Latin roots as "water loving," but fortunately the oakleaf hydrangea is much more tolerant of dry soils than most hydrangeas. While plants do best in good soil with a moist root run, such as near creek beds, they will also flourish in drier sites. They are best grown where they get high, filtered shade or on the north or east side of buildings.
The oakleaf hydrangea is hardy throughout the state and will grow as far north as Philadelphia. They have a coarse texture in the landscape so make good companion plants with other coarse textured plants such as hostas.
By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Extension Horticulturist - Ornamentals
Extension News - March 26, 1999
The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture does not maintain lists of retail outlets where these plants can be purchased. Please check your local nursery or other retail outlets to ask about the availability of these plants for your growing area.