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Old-Fashioned Charm and Hardy New Cultivars Boost This Popular Victorian Shrub’s High Demand

This wedding favorite's ruffled globes combine the nostalgia of grandma's garden with the whispered promise of romance to come. 

With more than 75 species and 600 cultivars under its genus, Hydrangea grows as a hardy deciduous shrub, 3–6' (1–2 m) tall and 6–10' (2–3 m) across, with large leaves and showy, rounded flowering heads measuring 4–12" (10–30 cm) in diameter. Each flower head is made up of clusters of small, flat florets, generally measuring ½–1 ½" (1.3–4 cm). These florets are both male and female, each with four sepals ("petals" that are really extensions of the flower's calyx or base). New double-blossomed hybrids boast 12 or more "petals," offering stunning shapes and an increasing palette of rich colors.

Most Hydrangea cultivars and hybrids commonly used by floral designers today are derived from the species Hydrangea macrophylla. These are classified into two main groups: mopheads (the classic, fully round globes of florets) and lacecaps (more saucer-shaped inflorescences, with a halo of larger florets ringing a central disc of tiny ones). Some Hydrangea garden cultivars have a sweet, breezy scent, but most stems sold as cut flowers have no fragrance.

Hydrangea flowers' singular magic is changing its colors according to the environment. Genetics, soil pH, season and blossom maturity all influence the blossoms' colors. When grown in acidic soils (pH 4.5–5.5), Hydrangea blooms in intense blues; more alkaline soils (pH 6–7+) typically produce pink to red florets. Immature flowers retain their green hue as cut flowers, while potted flowers and stems harvested after their first blush will develop deeper tones as they mature. The same plants can also produce different-colored florets across the seasons: pastels in early summer, jewel tones in late summer, and more muted, earthy tones in fall.

The only exception to the color-changing rule: white cultivars. These tend to stay white no matter the soil. For an added "wow" factor, white Hydrangea flowers may be painted with floral spray paints or dyed by adding tints to the floral solution.

Beyond their undeniably popular use as a fresh cut flower, Hydrangea stems also dry beautifully with just about every technique. Individual florets may be dried by pressing, microwaving, air drying or with a desiccant (such as silica gel or sand). Entire stems with bloom heads intact may be dried with a desiccant, glycerin or air.


• Hydrangea plants have been on earth longer than humans! Fossilized stems found in North America date back 45–60 million years. They have been cultivated in Asia for thousands of years, and were a sacred plant in imperial Japan.

• Hydrangea plants from both Asia and America arrived in Europe in the 18th century. The legendary Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus gave the plant its Western name, using a mash-up of the Greek words "hydor" (meaning water) and "angeion" (meaning vessel). Some scholars say Linnaeus' inspiration was the plant's urn-shaped seed capsules; others say he named the Hydrangea for of its love of moisture, which makes the plant itself a water vessel. Linnaeus himself left us no clues.

• In Latin, the species epithet translates to "has big leaves." Those big leaves need a lot of water to keep them perky, which explains why Hydrangea stems get droopy fast if they are not kept well-hydrated.

• Originally classified as a species in the Saxifragaceae family, Hydrangea now claims its own Hydrangeaceae family. Its plants are related to Viburnum, Astilbe and flowering currants.

• Hydrangea plants are treasure troves of bioactive compounds. Some have been useful to humans for centuries, while others' potentials are still being explored.

• The roots and bark of Hydrangea produce substances used for healing, and its leaves and flowers secrete hydrangin, which is used in sunscreens and fabric brighteners. On the other end of the spectrum, some Hydrangea plants also have traces of cyanide! Not enough to kill, but enough to make you, your kids, your pets and all of their digestive systems really sorry for nibbling a stem or two.

• Native Americans and early U.S. physicians used Hydrangea root to treat bronchitis, kidney stones and urinary tract infections. They also used the bark as a poultice for burns and muscle pain.

• A 2003 study in Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry reported that Hydrangea root is a more potent liver antioxidant than milk thistle and turmeric combined.

• Several Hydrangea extracts are being studied as future treatments for malaria, diabetes and a range of autoimmune disorders.

• According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, Hydrangea pollen does not trigger allergic reactions.

• In the Victorian "Language of Flowers," Hydrangea may symbolize deeply held emotion, healing or callousness.

• In Japan, they may symbolize apology or gratitude, because an ancient emperor conveyed those emotions to ladies of the court by giving them Hydrangea flowers.

• Hydrangea is the 4th wedding anniversary flower.

• Singer Katy Perry loves purple and white Hydrangea flowers.