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TREES & Plants

Oak-leaved hydrangea

Oak-leaved hydrangea is a shrub for all seasons. The large leaves resemble oak leaves and are deep green and sometimes glossy.  They turn a deep burgundy in fall and sometimes can persist into winter. The large cone-shaped flower clusters open white and eventually turn a purplish-pink. Older bark is cinnamon brown color and peels to create a texture that makes this plant interesting even when the leaves are gone.

Botanical name: 
Hydrangea quercifolia
All Common Names: 
Oak-leaf hydrangea, Oakleaf hydrangea, Oak-leaved hydrangea
Family (English): 
Hydrangea
Family (Botanic): 
Hydrangeaceae
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Shrub
Foliage: 
  • Deciduous (foliage falls off)
Native Locale: 
  • North America
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 5
  • Zone 6
  • Zone 7
  • Zone 8
  • Zone 9
Growth Rate: 
  • Slow
  • Medium
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Partial sun (4-6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Partial shade (4-6 hrs indirect light daily)
Tolerances: 
  • Alkaline soil
  • Road salt
Soil Preference: 
  • Acid soil
  • Moist, well-drained soil
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Fragrant
  • White
Size Range: 
  • Medium shrub (5-8 feet)
  • Small shrub (3-5 feet)
Shape or Form: 
  • Irregular
  • Mounded
  • Upright
Landscape Uses: 
  • Specimen
  • Massing
  • Foundation
  • Mixed border
Time of Year: 
  • Early winter
  • Mid summer
  • Late summer
  • Early fall
  • Mid fall
  • Late fall
More Information: 

Size and Form

4 to 6 feet high and wide; upright and irregular form at maturity.

Tree & Plant Care

Best in moist, well-drained, slightly acidic, organic rich soil.
Prefers sun to part shade.
Mulch to keep roots cool and moist.
Flowers on old wood; buds can be damaged in extremely cold winters.
Prune after flowering. Remove winter-damaged stems as soon as leaves begin to emerge in spring.

Disease, pests and problems

No serious problems.

Native geographic location and habitat

Native to the Southeastern United States.

Bark color and texture 

Cinnamon brown, peeling, interesting in winter.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Simple, opposite leaves, lobed like an oak leaf; 3 to 8 inches long.
Dark green in summer; red or burgundy in fall.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Showy, long-pointed flower clusters bloom in midsummer and last into fall, opening white, gradually changing to pink and then brown. Dried clusters can last all winter.  Fragrant.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

The actual fruit (a dry capsule) is not ornamentally important, but the remains of the dry flower heads that surround them do provide winter interest.

Cultivars and their differences 

Alice (Hydrangea quercifolia 'Alice'):   White flowers, maturing to pink,  in 12 to 14 inch clusters.  5 to 8 feet tall.  Leaves turn burgundy in fall.

Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)
Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), 'Alice' fall color
photo: John Hagstrom

Little Honey (Hydrangea quercifolia 'Little Honey'):  White flowers in 5 to 6 inch clusters.  Grows 2 to 3 feet tall.  Yellow leaves turning to orange-red in fall.

Pee Wee (Hydrangea quercifolia 'Pee Wee'):  White flowers fading to pink;  cluster 4 to 5 inches.   Grows 2 to 4 feet tall.   Fall color is red to red-purple. 

Sikes Dwarf (Hydrangea nquercifolia 'Sikes Dwarf'):  White flowers in 3 to 4 inch clusters, fading to pink.  2 to 3 feet tall.  Fall color is red to red-purple. 

Snowflake (Hydrangea quercifolia 'Snowflake'):  White double flowers in long clusters. 5 to 8 feet tall.  Red-purple fall color.

Snow Queen (Hydrangea quercifolia 'Snow Queen'):  White flowers maturing to pink.  4 to 6 feet tall.  Large, dense, full  flower clusters.  Red-bronze fall color.

Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)
Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), 'Snow Queen' flower in late season
photo: John Hagstrom