As much as I enjoy working with the festive hydrangeas native to Asia (nature's ponpons!), I was thrilled to learn there are a few varieties of hydrangea native to the U.S. Allow me to present my current favorite: the Oakleaf Hydrangea.
Hydrangea quercifolia hails from the woodland areas of the Southeastern United States, but it is hardy in zones 5 - 9. Estimates vary drastically as to the average size, from 4-8ft tall to 26ft! Hmmmm...any experienced gardeners want to weigh in?
Regardless, it will thrive in full sun to partial shade and prefers moist, well-drained soil. If you're in a colder area, some sources recommend protecting your shrubs during the winter (covering them in burlap, for example). We covered ours with big piles of fluffy snow during their first two Illinois winters and they not only survived but are thriving. It should also be noted that the bark, leaves, and buds of the oakleaf hydrangea are all toxic if consumed in large quantities, so dogs should be kept away from them.
Now that all the business is out of the way, let's talk about how pretty oakleaf hydrangeas are!
• The bushes are large, full, and rounded, with a thick, even distribution of leaves and flowers.
• The cones of delicate flowers are lovely when they're new and creamy white, when they've turned blush-pink, when they begin to dry in the autumn, and especially when they're completely dried. Ooh, I love them.
• The oak-like leaves are my favorite part of the plant. They have a clean structure, an intriguing combination of green, gold, and brown and they turn gorgeous shades of bronze and wine in the autumn. Delightful!
• As if all that wasn't enough, the bark of older shrubs peel away in the winter to reveal a golden inner bark.
The beautiful examples shown above, left to right:
(Images: as linked above)