52 Hydrangea quercifoliaCommon Names: oakleaf hydrangea Family: Hydrangeaceae (hydrangea Family)
Oakleaf hydrangea is a rather coarse deciduous shrub with big leaves, long, sometimes drooping limbs, and an open, loosely branched mounded habit. It has multiple stems which form an upright rounded clump 6-10 ft (1.8-3.1 m) tall with an even greater spread. Oakleaf hydrangea sends up shoots from underground stolons and often grows in colonies. The young stems are cloaked in a felt-like coppery fuzz, and the larger stems have attractive cinnamon-tan-orange bark that shreds and peels in thin flakes. The leaves are yellowish green on top, fuzzy-whitish underneath and arranged in pairs opposite each other on the stems. They have three, five or seven pointed lobes and are 4-12 in (1.2-30.5 cm) long and almost as wide. The leaves are largest on shade-grown plants. Oakleaf hydrangea leaves turn rich shades of red, bronze and purple in the fall, and often persist well into the winter. The flowers are borne in erect very showy cone-shaped clusters 6-12 in (15.2-30.5 cm) tall and 3-5 in (7.6-12.7 cm) wide on the ends of branches. They start out creamy white, age to pinkish and by autumn and winter are a dry, papery rusty-brown. Unlike bigleaf hydrangea (H. macrophylla), flower color does not vary with soil pH.
There are several named cultivars of oakleaf hydrangea, including 'Pee Wee', which stays under 3-4 ft (0.9-1.2 m) in height; 'Snow Flake' (the showiest of all?), which has 12-15 in (30.5-38.1 cm) clusters of double flowers; and 'Snow Queen' which is more cold-hardy and has denser flower clusters. Oakleaf hydrangea and the popular peegee hydrangea (H. paniculata) are the only hydrangeas with cone-shaped flower clusters; all the others have their flowers in ball-shaped or flat-topped clusters.
Oakleaf hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia, is native to the southeastern United States from Tennessee south to the Florida Panhandle and west to the Mississippi River. It grows in mixed hardwood forests, along streams and on forested hillsides, usually on calcareous soils, and often where limestone is at the ground surface. Oakleaf hydrangea is an understory shrub, often in the shade of large oaks, hickories, magnolias, American beech, and the like.
CultureOakleaf hydrangea grows best in woodsy situations on limey soils. Add lime if your soil is acidic. Light: Oakleaf hydrangea does well in partial to almost full shade. Morning sun and afternoon shade is best. Avoid full sun in hot climates. Moisture: Oakleaf hydrangea can survive droughts, but it may abort its flowers. For best performance, water during extended dry periods. Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 - 9. 'Snow Queen' is hardy to Zone 5; other cultivars and the species may not be. Propagation: Divide clumps in winter or start green-wood tip cuttings in moist sand or potting medium in summer.
Oakleaf hydrangea is a coarse-textured shrub that will not look right in all situations, but it does make a beautiful specimen in the shade of a large live oak. Use oakleaf hydrangea in partly shady shrub borders or in woodland gardens. It goes great with azaleas, blooming with big showy clusters of white flowers about the time the azaleas are winding down.
Oakleaf hydrangea is a wonderful American native shrub for partly shady places in the landscape. The large flower clusters remain on the plant for months, gradually turning from cream to pinkish to rusty red. The flower clusters don't fall apart when dry and are very attractive in floral arrangements. The stems and branches, with their exfoliating tan, orange and cinnamon bark, provide winter interest.
Steve Christman 04/21/97; updated 09/13/00, 06/01/01, 2/12/04