Okra Hydrangeas

This natural oakleaf hydrangea stand sits on the edge of a ravine in the partial shade of old oaks.

In my part of the world, we are about to enter the green phase of early summer.

The daffodils, spring wildflowers and azaleas are long gone.

The roses have waned and the magnolias are on their way out.

Luckily the oakleaf hydrangeas have taken center stage.

In the wild, I usually see oakleaf hydrangea hanging off steep slopes or following ravines.   There used to be a killer stand along the interstate coming into Vicksburg.  They were draped all over the steep loess bluffs until MDOT decided to “clean up” – alas.

I feel fortunate to have seen this hydrangea in its natural habitat.  Many know the oakleaf hydrangea only as a garden plant.

And what a fine garden plant it is!

The sterile flowers look like paper cut-outs. The minuscule globular fertile flowers will mature into tiny seed capsules.

Southern Living magazine’s garden editors have long admired the lovely natural stands of oakleaf hydrangeas that grace the city of Birmingham, Alabama.  They have aggressively promoted it as a garden plant.

Due in part to these efforts,  the oakleaf hydrangea is now one of the few native plants that is commonly available in the nursery trade.

Still –  as Dr. Michael Dirr says “This is one of the most handsome plants that landscape designers have at their disposal, but it is not utilized to its fullest potential in American gardens…”

From a landscaper’s perspective, the oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) does have a lot to offer.

The shrub itself has an attractive mounding habit.  In late spring, it is adorned with pristine white flower panicles .

A developing flower bud is surrounded by delightfully textured "okra" like leaves.

Each flower is actually an elongated conglomeration of tiny fertile flowers and showy sterile flowers.  The sterile flowers consist of four sepals and have no pistils or stamens.

The fertile flowers have sexual parts but no petals or sepals.   At maturity, they morph into tiny capsules full of seed.

The entire inflorescence dries on the plant – usually taking on a beautiful buff or pink color.   I enjoy using them fresh or dried in summer flower arrangements.

The bold coarse textured leaves have pointed lobes reminiscent of a red oak.   In Autumn, they turn scarlet or wine colored before shedding to reveal peeling cinnamon colored bark.

I once heard a woman call this plant okra (pronounced OAK-ree) hydrangea.

Depending on your point of view, the lobed leaves could be said to resemble those of an oak tree or an okra plant.  I have decided to adopt “okra hydrangea”  as my chosen common name.   I think that it is quite appropriate for a true blue southern plant.


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12 Responses to“Okra Hydrangeas”

  1. vicki says:

    I was told to use the prepared mustard right out of a jar,just the plain old yellow stuff out of a bottle or jar. I do remember my maternal grandfather spitting tobacco juice on our bee stings when we were little.

  2. yardflow says:

    Vicki, I’ve seen people hang them upside down in a well ventilated dark area. I usually put them in a flower arrangement. When everything else starts to look bad, I keep the hydrangeas and cut the slimey part of the stem off.
    What kind of mustard do you put on a bee sting – prepared mustard out of a jar or dried mustard. I used to always break one of my husband’s cigarettes in two, moisten the tobacco and put it on the sting. Then my husband quit smoking – yay – so I can’t do that any more.

  3. vicki says:

    Can you give us any tips on drying the hydrangeas? The hydrangea here in Western NC are now in full bloom. Thanks for the fabulous pictures. Mustard is supposed to be a good home remedy on bee stings I hear.

  4. yardflow says:

    Randy, That stand of hydrangeas were in Florida at Torreya State Park. I have seen them that big a few more times. There is a cleared area adjacent to the planting and I’m guessing that is a factor in their jumbo size. They may have even been moved around from a wild stand since they are kind of in a row and almost regimentally spaced.
    They personify what my old Plant Materials teacher would call “leggy”. He always seemed to think it was a bad thing. Here it just looks cool. Those bare legs really let you see the the very cool peeling cinnamon bark.
    Thanks for your comments. I am seriously impressed with your blog.

  5. Randy says:

    Great blog! I still can’t get over the photo of the natural stand you posted. The look like they can almost be trees. Truly spectacular!!!

  6. Randy says:

    Southern Gardeners writing Southern Gardeners haha

    I agree 100% on the Oakleaf Hydrangeas. They are among my favorite shrubs too and I use them alot. I will be posting a major hydrangea feature later this summer since I do need to go back and photograph alot of the ones I planted in full bloom first. There is a massive one growing on the corner of a house I’ll be doing maintenance on tomorrow.
    It is absolutely spectacular even when it is not in bloom.
    Your luckier than me; I still never seen a natural stand of these.
    Also agree on the Green Phase of early summer. With the early spring this year, right now most of the spring plants are finished blooming around here too and the summer plants haven’t begun yet.

  7. Onus Victoria Hershey says:

    We have many okries around the house. One of my faces.

  8. Onus Victoria Hershey says:

    Test postIng to Yardflower

  9. Good share, great article, very usefull for us¡­thanks.

  10. Great blog 9/10! Bookmarked!

  11. yardflow says:

    I think they look as much like an okra leaf as they do like an oak leaf. We eat a lot of okra here in the south. You too, Bangchic?

  12. bangchik says:

    the leaves look a little bit like okra i agree… except for the lack of little hairs on the surface and for being too shiny and oily. ~bangchik

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