Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Thursday, July 11, 2019

I heart Hydrangea arborescens

H arborescens
Hydrangea arborescens, commonly known as smooth hydrangea or wild hydrangea, is a gangly limbed deciduous shrub with large, opposite, toothed leaves and grayish stems. The dome shaped flower head is composed of sterile and fertile flowers that begin to bloom in June in my garden. It's native to woodland slopes, hillsides and stream banks in the Eastern US.

 ...and I adore it.
H arborescens has a lace cap look with large sterile flowers
I love the large, cloud-like clusters of early summer flowers that start out pale green and turn to white, then eventually fade to brown. I especially love that it resembles a fancy lacecap Hydrangea.

It grows wild on the wooded hillsides near our house and I was lucky to have some given to me. It's been in my garden for about 30 years and although, it can colonize, it hasn't gotten out of hand at all. It likes a moister soil than most sites in my garden, so I planted it along the sidewalk to the front porch where there is enough of a slope to give it the good drainage it needs and the faucet is close enough to give it big gulp of water during our dry summers.

Most of you know I garden for wildlife, so the wildlife value of plants I bring into the garden are important. Wild hydrangeas have pretty good wildlife value: they're pollinated by many species of native bees and beetles and it's a host plant for two moths, Darapsa versicolor/Hydrangea Sphinx Moth and Olethreutes ferriferana/Hydrangea leaf-tier moth.
 I love that little carpenter bees (Ceratina spp.), Halictid bees, masked bees (Hylaeus spp.), miscellaneous wasps, mosquitoes, Syrphid flies, thick-headed flies, Muscid flies, dance flies (Empis spp.), tumbling flower beetles, and long-horned beetles (source) visit the flowers, but, watching a bumble bee race back and forth is fabulous.

About a decade ago I started adding H arborecens cultivars. I am particular about what I add to my garden and these cultivar are not only good looking, they also have good wildlife value.
H arborescens 'White Dome'
H arborescens 'White Dome' was the first one I added. Its lacecap flower looks exactly like the straight species with those sterile white flowers around the edge of the inflorescence. The only differences I can detect from the species are the longer stems that hold the flowers up higher.
The flowers are a mixture of sterile and fertile flowers
 H arborescens 'Ryan Gainey' is another cultivar you might like. It is reminiscent of a smaller 'Annabelle' and is perfect for my woodland. In my opinion, the giant flower balls of 'Annabelle would look silly here! You might feel differently.
H arborescens 'Hayes Starburst' with double sterile flowers and lots of fertile ones
One of the most interesting cultivars in the garden is H arborescens 'Hayes Starburst'. Hayes Jackson found this sport while walking his property in Alabama. The serrated leaves are a great contrast to the greenish white blooms. Those double flowers are beautiful, but, the stems all flop over in my garden soil, so last winter I transplanted it to a tall container. It gets more sun and has excellent drainage and the flowers are no longer flopping on top of the soil.
bees and other pollinators visit this beauty
 'Riven Lace'/'Emerald Lace' lived for two years in a large container and last fall I planted it along the front garden path across from the original Hydrangeas. The flowers look exactly like the straight species, but, it's the leaves that give it more personality.
The leaves look nothing like the species, instead they're very deeply lobed in an irregular fashion and are a deep emerald green. I think you'll be looking to add this one to your garden.
Invincibelle® Spirit II is the most colorful.
 Proven Winners sent me several H arborescens to trial and they add a bit of color to the white and green palette. I was surprised at how much I liked Invincibelle® Spirit II.

It's bright color doesn't last long, but, it does have a sweet mixture of sterile and fertile flowers and yes, I have seen bees and other pollinators on it.

Smooth hydrangea or wild hydrangea, which ever name you prefer,  are delightful plants for every garden. The green flower buds and creamy white flowers are stellar.

If the creamy white flowers and light pinks aren't enough color for you, do what I do. Plant a lot of wildflowers beneath them.


Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


  1. Gail, they are wonderful hydrangeas all. I don't have the straight species. It would be a good one as would that of Ryan Gainey. I trialed Quick Fire, and as Carol and I discussed on the podcast, it attracts a ton of pollinators. I feel kind of bad about Limelight since it doesn't attract anything It is so pretty though.~~Dee

  2. These are all really pretty, Gail. Thanks for the info on all of them. I could watch bees on flowers for hours!

  3. I have several of these Hydrangeas in shady parts of the garden. I think they are 'Annabelle', but I'm not positive. I agree that this is a beautiful species, in any case. And very tough! I didn't know there were all these cultivars.

  4. HI Gail, i've not been blogging for sometime. Now that i found this again i am reminded of the Wildflower Posts that i have been linking in the past. I hope to find some wildflower pics to link again. That last picture with the many blooms is truly very lovely.


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson