The Morton Arboretum logo

TREES & plants

Oak-leaved hydrangea

Oakleaf hydrangea shrub in full flower.

Oak-leaved hydrangea is a shrub for all seasons. The large dark green leaves resemble oak leaves, in fall they change to a deep burgundy or red fall color.  In summer the large cone-shaped flower clusters open white then turn a purplish-pink changing to brown persisting into winter.  The older bark is cinnamon brown color and peels to create a texture that makes this plant interesting even when the leaves are gone.

 

This plant has some cultivated varieties. Go to list of cultivars.

 

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
Native Locale: 
  • North America
Landscape Uses: 
  • Specimen
  • Massing
  • Foundation
  • Mixed border
Size Range: 
  • Large shrub (more than 8 feet)
  • Medium shrub (5-8 feet)
  • Small shrub (3-5 feet)
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 5
  • Zone 6
  • Zone 7
  • Zone 8
  • Zone 9
Soil Preference: 
  • Acid soil
  • Moist, well-drained soil
Foliage: 
  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
Ornamental Interest: 
  • Summer blossoms
  • Fall color
  • Showy flowers
  • Attractive bark
Season of Interest: 
  • Early winter
  • Mid summer
  • Late summer
  • Early fall
  • Mid fall
  • Late fall
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Fragrant
  • White
Shape or Form: 
  • Irregular
  • Mounded
  • Upright
Growth Rate: 
  • Slow
  • Moderate
More Information: 

Size and Form

4 to 6 feet high and wide; upright and irregular form at maturity.
Forms colonies from a shallow root system.
Cultivars can vary in size.

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; prune after flowering.
Remove winter-damaged stems as soon as leaves begin to emerge in spring. 

Disease, pests and problems

Susceptible to sunscald, chlorosis in alkaline soils, and winter dieback.
Weak, brittle canes are easily broken in wind and ice. 

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. 

Fall color on cultivar 'Alice'

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Showy, fragrant, panicle clusters bloom in midsummer and last into fall, opening white, gradually changing to pink and then brown. 
Dried flower clusters can add winter interest to the landscape. 

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

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

Cultivars and their differences 

Alice oak-leaved hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia 'Alice'): Grows  5 to 8 feet high.   White flowers, maturing to pink,  in 12 to 14 inch clusters.  Leaves turn burgundy in fall.

Little Honey™ oak-leaved hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia 'Little Honey'): Grows 2 to 3 feet high. A yellow leaved selection. White flowers in 5 to 6 inch clusters.  Yellow leaves turn a orange-red in fall.

Pee Wee oak-leaved hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia 'Pee Wee'): Grows 2 to 4 feet high.  White flowers clusters 4-5 inches long.  Fall color is red to red-purple. 

Munchkin oak-leaved hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia 'Munchkin'): Compact habit, 3 to 4 feet high. Foliage turns a rich mahogany-red in fall.

Ruby Slippers oak-leaved hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia 'Ruby Slippers'): A compact, 3 to 4 feet high upright shrub with white flowers turning to deep rose. Mahogany-red fall color.

Sikes Dwarf oak-leaved hydrangea (Hydrangea nquercifolia 'Sikes Dwarf'):  Compact, 2 to 3 feet high. White, 3 to 4 inch long flower clusters, fade to pink. Fall color is red to red-purple. 

Snowflake oak-leaved hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia 'Snowflake'): Grows 5 to 8 feet high. White, double flowers in long 12 to 15 inch clusters. Red-purple fall color.

Snow Queen™ oak-leaved hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia 'Snow Queen'): Grows 4 to 6 feet high.  Large, dense, 6 to 8 inch long white flower clusters mature to pink.  Red-bronze fall color.

Flower of cultivar 'Snow Queen' in late season.