2000 Plant Of The Year | Hydrangea quercifolia
The oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) has been the signature plant of the Georgia Native Plant Society since the organization’s inception in 1994, so it is a fitting choice to kick off the organization’s new Plant of the Year program as the pick for 2000.
This majestic native shrub was discovered and named by William Bartram during his travels in the Southeast in the late 18th century and has been admired both in the wild and in gardens since. Its name aptly reflects the shape of the large, lobed foliage, which makes a dramatic statement on its own. Adding to the plant’s charms are white, elongated panicles of flowers reaching 4 to 12 inches in length and consisting of a mix of small, fertile flowers and showy, sterile flowers. The blooms appear late spring into summer, and as the blossoms age, they take on hues of pink to rose, ultimately turning an attractive tan and remaining on the plant well into winter. The deep-green foliage puts on its own display in autumn, turning glorious shades of red, purple and burgundy. After the leaves fall, the plant gives the garden winter interest with exfoliating cinnamon-brown bark and an attractive branch structure.
In its natural habitats, the oakleaf hydrangea can be found throughout the Southeast along stream banks, hillsides and in open woods. But it is an accommodating garden plant, making itself at home in a wide range of conditions. Though its natural preference would be for moist, well-drained soil, once established, it is fairly drought tolerant. It will reward the gardener with blooms even in a good bit of shade and appreciates protection from the hot afternoon sun. The oakleaf hydrangea rarely will experience any insect or disease problems, and it needs little maintenance once established. Pruning need only be done to maintain its shape or size and should be done immediately after flowering, since buds are set in early fall. Though a Southeast native, the oakleaf hydrangea has proved hardy from USDA Hardiness Zones 5 through 9.
When placing the oakleaf hydrangea in the garden, allow space for its 6- to 8-foot height and similar spread. It is a welcome addition to a shrub border or can hold its own as a specimen plant. It is also well suited for a planting at woods’ edge where the large, coarse foliage will contrast nicely with finer-textured plants, such as ferns, Solomon’s Seal, Mountain Laurel or Leucothoe. The oakleaf hydrangea is readily available in the nursery trade, with several named cultivars (including ‘Alice’, ‘Harmony’, ‘Roanoke’, ‘Snowflake’, and ‘Snow Queen’) also available.
Prepared by Mary P. Tucker for the Georgia Native Plant Society.