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Hydrangea Names & Glossary

Learn to talk the language of Hydrangeas and find out what all of the different terms used to describe and/or refer to Hydrangeas mean.

Contributors: Stacey Hirvela

As beautiful and popular as hydrangeas are, they cause their share of confusion among gardeners. Not least of all because hydrangeas even have their own language – a set of terms that is uniquely associated with this widely grown genus. Here, we’ve tried to define the words that are often thrown around in conversations about hydrangeas and put them into a context that shows the real-world relevance to your own garden. Still have questions? You’re welcome to contact us  any time. We’re here to help you achieve success with hydrangeas and every plant in your garden!

Kinds of hydrangeas:

Bigleaf hydrangea: also seen as big-leaf hydrangea; one of many common names for Hydrangea macrophylla. Other names include French hydrangea, garden hydrangea, and Florist’s hydrangea (this particular term may refer to either the plants or to the cut flower stems).

Examples of bigleaf hydrangea: Let’s Dance® series, Cityline series

Hortensia: an old-fashioned common name for mophead forms of Hydrangea macrophylla. It is also the French and the Spanish word for hydrangea.

Smooth hydrangea: The most widely used common name for Hydrangea arborescens. Others include wild hydrangea and sevenbark.

Examples of smooth hydrangea: Invincibelle® series, Incrediball®

Oakleaf hydrangea: The common name for Hydrangea quercifolia, a North American native hydrangea with large, cone-like white flowers and large leaves that resemble those of the oak tree. It is widely grown for its excellent autumn color and unusual peeling bark as well as for its showy blooms.

Annabelle: ‘Annabelle’ is a specific variety of smooth hydrangea that was discovered near Anna, Illinois in the 1960s. It was the first smooth hydrangea with mophead flowers. It became so widely grown since its introduction that ‘Annabelle’ has incorrectly become a common name used to describe any smooth hydrangea.

Panicle hydrangea: the most accurate common name for Hydrangea paniculata.

Examples of Panicle hydrangeas: Little Lime, Quick Fire®, Pinky Winky, and Bobo

PeeGee hydrangea: Often used as a common name for panicle hydrangea. However, “PeeGee” derives from paniculataGrandiflora,’ a very old specific variety of panicle hydrangea introduced in France in the 1860s and still available today. Since “PeeGee” only refers to this variety, panicle hydrangea is a more appropriate common name.

Climbing hydrangea: The common name for Hydrangea anomala subsp. Petiolaris, a woody vine that climbs up trees, walls, or any solid structure. Native to Asia, it is grown for its attractive foliage, unique vine habit, and fragrant white flowers.

Mountain hydrangea: Relatively new to North American gardeners, mountain hydrangea (the common name for Hydrangea serrata) is much like bigleaf hydrangea (H. macrophylla) in terms of its rich pink or blue flower colors and attractive, dark green foliage. However, mountain hydrangea has better bud hardiness than bigleaf hydrangea, making it a better choice for zone 5 gardeners who often lose their hydrangea flowers to late winter cold snaps.

Examples of mountain hydrangea: Tuff Stuff 

Reblooming: Many hydrangeas have the capacity to rebloom – that is, bloom at their normal, expected time and then bloom again later in the same season. This is a recent development for bigleaf hydrangeas, though only those sold as rebloomers will actually display this capacity.

Examples of reblooming hydrangeas: Let’s Dance® series, Tuff Stuff 

Compact hydrangeas: As with other plants, compact (sometimes seen as dwarf) hydrangeas are smaller versions of their bigger kin. Because they stay small, there is no temptation or need to prune them, eliminating the pruning errors that so often complicate hydrangeas.

Examples of compact hydrangeas: Bobo, Little Lime®, Cityline series

Flower Terminology:

Lacecap: Lacecap refers to the arrangement of florets that comprise the hydrangea flower (inflorescence). In lacecap hydrangeas, the smaller, pollen-bearing fertile florets are most numerous; they are surrounded by an outer ring of the showy sterile florets. Lacecap flowers tend to be flat and loosely packed; they look light and airy. Lacecap flowers can appear on any species of hydrangea.

Examples of lacecap hydrangeas: Tuff Stuff

Mophead: The big, round, ball-like hydrangea flowers seen in shops around Mother’s Day are known as mophead hydrangeas. Mophead hydrangea flowers are made up primarily of the large, showy sterile florets. They may bear smaller fertile florets, but these are obscured by the more numerous and densely packed sterile florets, resulting in a spherical shape. Examples of mophead flowers can be seen among several hydrangea species.

Examples of mophead hydrangeas: Cityline series, Incrediball®, Invincibelle® Spirit

Inflorescence: describes the entire flower head, composed of numerous smaller florets arranged together on a single stem.

Sterile florets: The large, papery flowers that make hydrangeas so showy are known as sterile florets. They contain little to no actual pollen and simply serve to lure pollinators to the flowers and down to the fertile florets. Wild hydrangeas may have few to no sterile florets while mophead varieties like ‘Nikko Blue’ are comprised almost entirely of them.

Fertile florets: The fertile florets on a hydrangea are tiny, numerous and star-like. If they are observed closely, stamens and pistils can be clearly distinguished. In a lacecap flower, fertile florets comprise the bulk of the inflorescence, with sterile florets in ring on the outer edge; in a mophead, they are usually nestled down under the larger sterile flowers.

Picotee: refers to a variation in color along the edges of a floret.

Bud hardiness: is an important concept for success with bigleaf hydrangeas and mountain hydrangeas. In zone 5 and even 6, the roots and leaf buds of these plants are hardy and able to withstand harsh winter conditions, but their more delicate flower buds may not be. For example, the listing of Tuff Stuff hydrangea mentions its improved bud hardiness, making it a more reliable bloomer for colder areas.

Old wood: describes growth that was put on during the previous season. Big leaf hydrangea, mountain hydrangea, oakleaf hydrangea, and climbing hydrangea all flower on old wood.

New wood: describes the growth that a plant creates during the current season. Smooth hydrangea and panicle hydrangea both flower on new wood.

Patent Info:  Invincibelle® Spirit II Hydrangea arborescens 'NCHA2' USPPAF, Can PBRAF; Incrediball® Hydrangea arborescens 'Abetwo' PP: 20571 Can. PBRAF; 'Limelight' Hydrangea paniculata PP: 12874 Can.: 2319; Little Lime Hydrangea paniculata 'Jane' PPAF Can.: 3914; Quick Fire® Hydrangea paniculata 'Bulk' PP: 16812 Can. PBRAF; Pinky Winky Hydrangea paniculata 'DVPpinky' PP: 16166 Can.: 2892; Bobo Hydrangea paniculata 'ILVOBO' PP: 22782 Can. PBRAF; Tuff Stuff Hydrangea serrata 'MAK20' PPAF.

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