Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle'

Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’

Hydrangea (or common name Hortensia) is based on the greek words for Water (hydor) and Vessel (aggeion) in reference to the shape of their seed capsule.

This genus of over 70 species of popular shrubs has delicate heads of flowers in shades of pink, white or blue and pretty autumn colour and leaf shape. The mophead hydrangeas are most well-known for their ability to change colour in different soils. They are native to southern and eastern Asia (China, Japan, Korea, the Himalayas, and Indonesia) and the Americas. By far the greatest species diversity is in eastern Asia, notably China, Japan, and Korea. Most are 1 to 3 meters tall, but some are small trees and other lianas reaching up to 30 m (98 ft) by climbing up trees. They can be either deciduous or evergreen, though the widely cultivated temperate species are all deciduous.

Seed capsules of H. aborescens

Seed capsules of H. aborescens

The names of some species are:

H. arborescens = tree – like

H. hortensis = literally of gardens, though it is said this name commemorates the wife of a celebrated Parisian clockmaker, Madame Hortense Lepante

H. macrophylla = large- or long-leaved

H. paniculata = panicled, in reference to the flower shape

H. petiolaris = long – petioled (the leaf stalk)

H. vestita = clothed with hairs

Having been introduced to the Azores, H. macrophylla is now very common, particularly on Faial, which is known as the “blue island” due to the vast number of hydrangeas present.

There are two main flower arrangements in hydrangeas. Mophead flowers are large round flower heads resembling pom-poms or, as the name implies, the head of a mop. In contrast, lacecap flowers bear round, flat flower heads with a centre core of subdued, fertile flowers surrounded by outer rings of showy, sterile bract-like flowers.

Hydrangeas are grown mainly for their large flower heads, with H. macrophylla being by far the most widely grown with over 600 named cultivars, many selected to have only large sterile flowers in the flower heads. Some are best pruned on an annual basis when the new leaf buds begin to appear. If not pruned regularly, the bush will become very ‘leggy’, growing upwards until the weight of the stems is greater than their strength, at which point the stems will sag down to the ground and possibly break. Other species only flower on ‘old wood’. Thus new wood resulting from pruning will not produce flowers until the following season.

Hydrangeas are moderately toxic if eaten. H. paniculata is reportedly sometimes smoked as an intoxicant, despite the danger of illness and/or death due to the cyanide!

In Japan, ama-cha meaning ‘sweet tea’, is another tisane made from Hydrangea serrata, whose leaves contain a substance that develops a sweet taste. For the fullest taste, fresh leaves are crumpled, steamed, and dried, yielding dark brown tea leaves. Ama-cha is mainly used for the Buddha bathing ceremony on April 8 every year—the day thought to be Buddha’s birthday in Japan.

The pink hydrangea has risen in popularity all over the world, but especially in Asia. Pink hydrangeas have many different meanings, but they generally mean “You are the beat of my heart”, as described by the celebrated Asian florist Tan Jun Yong, where he was quoted saying, “The light delicate blush of the petals reminds me of a beating heart, while the size could only match the heart of the sender!”

Sources and further information:

Royal Horticultural Society- Hydrangeas



Old School Gardener

If you’ve enjoyed reading this post and others on this blog, why not comment and join others by signing up for automatic updates via email (see side bar, above right ) or through an RSS feed (see top of page)?