By Suzanne Wodek
Hydrangea quercifolia, commonly called Oakleaf hydrangea, is a native, upright, rounded, deciduous shrub that grows up to 8’ tall. It is naturally found on bluffs, in moist woods and ravines and along stream banks.
It sends up shoots from underground stolons and forms colonies from a shallow root system. The young stems are fuzzy. Mature stems can be cut to the ground every two or three years to keep the shrub smaller. Pyramidal, loose-branching clusters of greenish flowers that turn white bloom all summer on old wood. They turn dry, papery and rusty brown by autumn. The flower clusters do not fall apart when dry and they make attractive features in floral arrangements. Large, oak-like, dark green leaves turn rich shades of red, purple and bronze in the autumn and the exfoliating mature branches provide interesting color and texture in winter. If you are looking for a shrub with four seasons of interest, this will make a great addition to your garden.
This shrub thrives in organically rich, medium moist, well-drained, slightly acidic soils in full sun to part shade. It will need some sun to bloom. Easily propagate by dividing well-established clumps in late winter or early spring. Start green-wood tip cuttings in moist sand or potting medium in summer. There are no serious disease problems; however, deer do love to eat this plant.
Eighteenth-century American botanist William Bartram noted hydrangea quercifolia in his botanizing exploration from the Carolinas to the Florida panhandle. The genus name comes from the Latin hydor for “water” and angeion for “cup,” in reference to the cup-like shape of its fruit. Its species name is derived from the Latin words quercus meaning “oak” and folia meaning “leaf.”
The Botanical Gardens, located at 151 W.T. Weaver Boulevard, is a nonprofit organization housing a collection of plants native to the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated and memberships are encouraged. The Gardens are open daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, restrooms and drinking water are not available, and the Visitors Center and the Gift Shop are currently closed. Learn more at AshevilleBotanicalGardens.org.