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Hydrangea 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, Edgy series, Abracadabra series, Cityline series, Pink Shira 

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® Spirit II, Incrediball®, White Dome®

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 os Panicle hydrangeas: ‘Limelight,’ Little Lime, Quick Fire®, Pinky Winky, ‘Little Lamb’ 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: Invincibelle® Spirit, 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®, ‘Little Lamb,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: Let’s Dance® Starlight, White Dome®, Tuff Stuff, Edgy Orbits, Abracadabra Star

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: Let’s Dance® Big Easy, 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.

Examples of picotee hydrangeas: Cityline Mars, Edgy Hearts

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:  Pink Shira Hydrangea macrophylla 'Sonmarie' PP: 20595; Invincibelle® Spirit II Hydrangea arborescens 'NCHA2' USPPAF, Can PBRAF; Incrediball® Hydrangea arborescens 'Abetwo' PP: 20571 Can. PBRAF; White Dome® Hydrangea arborescens 'Dardom' PP: 14168; '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; 'Little Lamb' Hydrangea paniculata PP: 15395; Bobo Hydrangea paniculata 'ILVOBO' PP: 22782 Can. PBRAF; Tuff Stuff Hydrangea serrata 'MAK20' PPAF; Let's Dance® Starlight Hydrangea macrophylla 'Lynn' PP: 20019 Can. PBRAF; Edgy Orbits Hydrangea macrophylla 'Harbits' PP: 21186; Abracadabra Star Hydrangea macrophylla 'Horabstra' PP: 21636; Let's Dance® Big Easy Hydrangea macrophylla 'Berner' PPAF Can. PBRAF; Cityline Mars Hydrangea macrophylla 'Ramars’; Edgy Hearts Hydrangea macrophylla 'Horheart' PPAF;

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Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Wed, 08/10/2016 - 9:09am

Are there hydrangeas that do better on the north side of the house that gets less direct sun? I am in the Chicago area (zone 5A) and a novice gardener. Any feedback would be helpful. Thanks!

Stacey Hirvela's picture
Stacey Hirvela Wed, 08/10/2016 - 12:24pm

The most shade-tolerant hydrangea is the oakleaf hydrangea: These will also flower reliably even in zone 5a, provided that you don't prune them.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Tue, 07/12/2016 - 7:00pm

I just bought this hydrangea; it's my first attempt at growing a 'tree' type although I have grown a few other hydrangeas, mostly hardier varieties like Invincibelle, Quick fire, & Pinky winky. I also have an Endless Summer I planted last year that is starting to bloo as well; however I am in a cold zone - barely into Zone 3 (some say it's 2B), so I wondered what the difference is when planting & caring for a tree type hydrangea.
Carol Morton

Stacey Hirvela's picture
Stacey Hirvela Wed, 07/20/2016 - 12:10pm

Hi Carol - tree-form panicle hydrangeas shouldn't require any extra special care in a cold climate. Anything you do for the other panicle hydrangeas you mention (Quick Fire, Pinky Winky) will work for them as well. Here's a video on how to prune them:

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sun, 07/03/2016 - 12:13am

our hydrangea is so wild. can I trim or prune it so that it will have a better shape. I understand it blooms on old wood but I don't know if it can be pruned

Stacey Hirvela's picture
Stacey Hirvela Wed, 07/06/2016 - 2:14pm

If you prune it, you may not see as many flowers next year, but sometimes the sacrifice is necessary. Now would be a fine time to prune it if you need to - you can safely remove one-third of the branches.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Tue, 06/07/2016 - 7:47pm

I know this is a weird question and may be totally crazy. I bought my wife a mophead hydrangea several years ago at Lowes. It had beautiful blooms and was fine. I planted it in the yard that year and this year I noticed it blooming but not as a typical hydrangea bloom that I have come to know. After some internet research I see that it in fact has lace cap blooms. I cannot find anything on the internet that describes this phenomenon. How is this possible when I know it had huge mophead blooms when I bought it.



Stacey Hirvela's picture
Stacey Hirvela Wed, 07/06/2016 - 2:17pm

Hydrangeas are not grafted as there is no advantage to doing so. There has to be some environmental/cultural cause that explains the change, but we'd need some photos and a bit more information about where you are located and the conditions the plants are in get to the bottom of it.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Mon, 07/04/2016 - 12:50pm

With roses, simply put, they can graft one rose's roots to another variety's limbs, making a grafted (hybrid) rose. For example: if something happens to the top of the bush and you're left with the original roots, a once white rose can suddenly bloom red. Can they graft and make hybrid hydrangeas?

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Fri, 06/10/2016 - 5:15pm

The only thing I have found online that mentions this are the 2 links below. I will look at Lowes when I go back there. I hope they have the same variety that I bought 2-3 years ago. I remember the plant having several big mophead flowers that were blue. I gave them to my wife for Mothers day. We then planted them near the house and this year, as stated the flowers were totally different. I Googled this since I didn't know that there were other varieties (Lacecap). Once I saw pictures of the Lacecaps I knew right away that this is what they are now. I will take photos hopefully before they are gone and send them to you. If you get any further info on this please pass it along to me . Thanks--Matt

Stacey Hirvela's picture
Stacey Hirvela Fri, 06/10/2016 - 7:15am

Hi Matt - this is indeed strange. Do you know what variety the plant was (in other words, what was its name)? We would definitely need to see photos to get to the bottom of it, so please contact us here: and select "shrubs" as the category. Then I can tell you where to send photos. Thanks so much!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Tue, 05/24/2016 - 11:18am


I have a new Pee-gee hydrangea tree. I'm a DIYer with very little gardening experience. I had a landscape design made and they suggested a series of three hydrangeas around the front of the tree. What variety would you recommend? I have not had very good luck with hydrangeas. It seems when I cut the blooms to put in vases, the stems turn to wood and nothing ever grows back. Eventually it never flowered again.

Thank you.

Stacey Hirvela's picture
Stacey Hirvela Thu, 05/26/2016 - 12:02pm

It sounds like the hydrangeas you haven't had luck with are big-leaf hydrangeas - if improperly pruned (even to cut flowers for a vase), you can inadvertently limit the blooming for the following year. Pee-gee hydrangeas are an entirely different type and are the easiest, most reliable, almost fool-proof hydrangeas available, so I believe you would have excellent luck with them. You can learn more about the different types of hydrangeas and what that means for your landscape here:

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Mon, 04/25/2016 - 7:17pm

What kind of a hydrangea would you recommend for an east side of a farm building. Would an Annabell or inviciball work? What about an Endless Summer? Thanks for your help. Sandi

Stacey Hirvela's picture
Stacey Hirvela Wed, 05/11/2016 - 7:56am

Hi Sandi - the east side of a building is an ideal location for hydrangeas, but the primary factor in selecting which kind of hydrangea to plant is your hardiness zone. Take a look at our Hydrangeas Demystified sheet for more information: If you are in zone 5 or warmer, you can plant any type you like there.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Thu, 05/21/2015 - 5:31pm

I just purchased a Quick Fire from Costco and I am wondering what direction it should face for best results The reason I ask is because my other hydrangea are facing east and they are just beautiful. The quick fire shrub has a much different bloom and I wondered if that makes a difference.

Kelly Geoghegan's picture
Kelly Geoghegan Mon, 06/01/2015 - 3:24pm

We recommend that this hydrangea get about 4-6 hours of direct sun.

I hope this helps!

Kelly Geoghegan

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Tue, 04/07/2015 - 6:46pm

My ES is 4 years old and has always been a wonderful healthy plant. However, this year as I pruned it most of the bark is coming off of its branches. They seem to be green and healthy and there are many buds but I have never seen this vast amount of bark loss. Is there something causing this and is it a danger to the plant? If so, what do you suggest I do to help protect and care for it?

Stacey Hirvela's picture
Stacey Hirvela Mon, 04/13/2015 - 10:31am

No need to worry! Like their close relatives oakleaf hydrangeas, big-leaf hydrangeas have naturally peeling bark. Big-leaf hydrangeas need to become fairly mature for this to occur, so this has just started happening recently because some of the growth has become old enough to start peeling. It's a natural effect and no cause for alarm, unless it is also accompanied by damage from rabbits, mice or voles, which would appear as tiny bite marks around most of the stem.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sun, 06/16/2013 - 9:54am

These plants are now 2 yrs old. All the pictures I see the leaves are almost dark green but mine are a much lighter green with red stems. I bought them from a reputable nursery and they are Little Lamb hydrangea just wondering why these shrubs are different in color. They bloomed last year and the flowers are wonderful.


Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Thu, 06/06/2013 - 1:56pm

Please explain whey you list the 'little lamb' hydrangea in your 'compact hydrangea' category eventhough your description of the 'little lamb' indicates a growth of up to 72''.

I need to know if I made a mistake planting them in a location that needed something with maximum height of 2 feet.

Thank you

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Fri, 07/19/2013 - 10:34am

Little Lamb is a compact shrub that can reach 72 inches in height, the bigger version of Little Lamb is Pee Gee Grandfloria Hydrangea which can reach the height of 20 feet. If you are looking for a hydrangea in the two feet height category you should look into the Bombshell hydrangea it is a dwarf, compact hydrangea and reaches average height of 2-3 feet and 3-4 feet width...good luck!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sun, 08/05/2012 - 9:40pm

Glad to see the many different forms and learn the difference between old and new wood. .My question is: can I prune now as my bush has gotten huge this summer and has been in the ground one year. I t now covers our window and we need to prune. Please help me. Thanks

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sat, 08/04/2012 - 1:10pm

Very helpful in describing the types and characteristics of hydrangeas

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Fri, 08/03/2012 - 9:55am

Lots of good information, hydrangea's are my favorite garden flower. I love all varieties. Thanks for the article.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Mon, 07/30/2012 - 8:18am

My Endless Summer Hydrangeas have stopped blooming almost entirely. For two years we have had no blooms, this year, a few - mainly toward the very bottom of the plant. Very healthy looking green leaves - what can be wrong? Several other people have had the same thing happening, greenhouses are baffled around here. We live in Central Wisconsin - Zone 4 cold hardy. These plants are about 6 years old and, in the past have bloomed profusely.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Wed, 05/08/2013 - 5:08pm

Bushes like so many if they are a blooming plant they will thrive only if you have planted them deep in the soil and continually fertilize them..seeing as you have healthy looking leaves this plant will most likely bloom again I did plant a few and noticed no blooming for about 2 or 3 years after having nothing but blooms for 2 years straight the weather plays a factor if it's been a cold summer or way to hot then you may not see blooms but healthy leaves keep them watered but don't drown them mist them daily water weekly or when you notice the ground to be dry..I bought myself a bell that I placed in the ground it changes color when it needs watering I found this helped me a lot...another thing I do notice with novice gardeners is they don't turn their soil yearly it's been really cold in the winter time and the dirt underneath if not turned will not warm up and remain to chilly to produce the effect you may be looking for...gardening is a chore and a half and patience being in abundance is always needed...good luck and happy gardening

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Mon, 07/30/2012 - 7:26am

Enjoyed the informative article, but how do you know if you have a new or old wood bloomer? I have two lace cap hydrangeas that I planted at different times about five years ago.. They are now about the same size with similar bloom appearance, but one has a smaller "green leaf" that blooms a couple of weeks before the other one. I have deadheaded both, but they don't seem to re-bloom the same season. Both have gotten very large, but I've never pruned because of the confusion as to the best time to prune. I don't want to prevent it from blooming the next year. Is there a to tell before removing this year's blooms if they are new or old wood bloomers?
Confused in Providence.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Fri, 07/19/2013 - 10:43am

Lace caps are not rebloomers, so if you deadhead them that's it for the season.. Lace caps should be handled no different than mopheads, meaning one bloom per season. As for pruning Lace caps they are old bloomers and next year flower buds will be present on the stems by now... If you look at the stems you should see them and in seeing them make sure you cut.above those new emerging buds... Late summer early sept should be.fine.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sun, 07/29/2012 - 4:11pm

As a hydrangea fan, since I first saw them in my inlaws garden in Scotland, I am delighted to learn the different terms and descriptions. I have many of the varieties listed in my own zone 5 garden. Anne Shields, Port Hope, ON., Canada.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sun, 07/29/2012 - 9:44am

Thank you for a wonderful and concise article. Very helpful for novice gardeners like myself who don't want to scour various articles for the info. Very easy to understand.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sun, 07/29/2012 - 8:38am

Do I trim in the fall; cut back how far? What do I use to keep hydranges blue? Do I cut off dead blooms in fall? Please send correct feeding and triming instructions. Thank you.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sat, 07/28/2012 - 4:35pm

Thank you so much for the wonderful informative facts. Lifetime learning ...

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sat, 07/28/2012 - 9:07am

Very good. I have a question. Can hydrangeas reseed?i

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sat, 07/28/2012 - 8:28am

I love this plant, have a few in my yard. I had NO idea that there were so many of them!!! Thanks, now I will be getting more.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sat, 07/28/2012 - 4:33am

Thanks for this great Hydrangea Glossary. Any chance you might give us info on which hydrangeas to prune in spring and which in fall? G. Wood

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sat, 07/28/2012 - 4:33am

Thanks for this great Hydrangea Glossary. Any chance you might give us info on which hydrangeas to prune in spring and which in fall? G. Wood

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Fri, 07/27/2012 - 11:01pm

Hi Stacey!

Great job! I would like to post this on my Facebook page at, but a link will have to do. I thought I knew a lot about Hydrangeas, but what an education! Thank you. I'm always plugging Proven Winners, and all my clients carry your plants. Thanks again.

Larry Ross

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Fri, 07/27/2012 - 9:36pm

While the term glosssary refers to definitions of terms, illustrations would be vey helpful. Including the color of a specific ptented variety would help identify plants that have lost their labels. Are the patented varieties mentioned only from Proven Winners? If so, a few well know patented ones from other companies would also be helpful.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Fri, 07/27/2012 - 8:53pm

Thanks for this excellent clarification of hydrangea
terms. Their floral photos are invaluable! This is a keeper...

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Fri, 07/27/2012 - 5:22pm

Good, but would be better if pictures accompanied definitions, to illustrate the definitions and make them easer to identify in reality.

Dictionary would be most helpful with photos to identify and illustrate the definitions.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Fri, 07/27/2012 - 5:21pm

Funny, the article arrived just as I have been contemplating adding more hydrangeas to my gardens. I love them as background for my other flowers. This article was very interesting...wish there were picture examples of the different terms used in the glossery!

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