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Hydrangea arborescens

This plant has poison characteristics. See below.
Common Name(s):
Smooth hydrangea, Wild hydrangea
'Annabelle', 'Grandiflora', 'Incrediball', 'Invincibelle Spirit' - pink flowered, 'White Dome', 'Hayes Starburst' - star shaped florets, 'Grandiflora'
Native Plants, Poisonous Plants, Shrubs

Hydrangea arborescens, commonly known as smooth hydrangea or wild hydrangea, is a loosely and widely branched deciduous shrub that typically grows to 3-6’ (less frequently to 10’) tall. It is native to moist or rocky wooded slopes, ravines, streambanks and bluff bases from New York to Florida west to Iowa, Missouri, Oklahoma and Louisiana.

Its bark is brown and finely shredded.

Several named cultivars have sterile flowers making a ball-shaped bloom. A few modern hybrids have been bred to have pink flowers. Unique to H. arborescens, the flower color is not affected by the soil pH. Hydrangea arborescens is very cold hardy but will also grow in warmer Carolina climates.

Regions:  Mountain, Piedmont

Seasons of Interest: 

  Blooms: Spring/summer             Nut/Fruit/Seed:  Fall

Wildlife Value:  The wild hydrangea flowers are attractive to butterflies and other insects.  Songbirds eat the seeds.   It is moderately resistant to damage from deer.   

Insects, Diseases, or Other Plant Problems: Many species of hydrangea, including this one, are susceptible to bud blight, bacterial wilt, leaf spots, mold, rust and powdery mildew. Watch for aphids, mites, scale and nematodes.

3-5 ft.
The wild hydrangea has gray-brown stems are clad with opposite, simple broad egg-shaped to rounded, sharply toothed, dark green leaves (2-6” long) with pale green undersides. The leaves turn yellow in fall.
The wild hydrangea has tiny white fertile flowers that bloom in May-July in flattened hairy clusters (corymbs to 2-6”across). Scattered continuing flowering may occur throughout summer to September. A few large sterile flowers usually appear at the cluster margins (usually not enough for a quality lacecap effect). Flowers give way to dehiscent seed capsules which ripen in October-November. The native Smooth Hydrangea is white, 6 to 8 inches, flattened corymb in summer; opens white then turns green and brown. The named cultivars have typical ball-shaped hydrangea flowers 8 to 12 inches across. Newer cultivars can be found with pink flowers.
3 to 9
The wild hydrangea is easily grown in average, medium moisture, well-drained soils in part shade. It will tolerate full sun only if grown with consistent moisture. It is intolerant of drought, with foliage tending to decline considerably in dry conditions. Plants may die to the ground in harsh winters. Its blooms occur on new wood, so plants may be pruned back close to the ground in late winter to revitalize and to encourage vigorous stem growth and best form. If not pruned back, any weakened and/or damaged stems should be removed in early spring.
Clumpy rounded shrub; non-branching canes
Partial shade; moist soil
Poison Part:
Bark, leaves, flower buds.
Poison Delivery Mode:
Nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, sweating.
Toxic Principle:
Hydrangin, a cyanogenic glycoside.
Found in:
Houseplant or interiorscape; landscape as woody shrub; forest or natural area as native shrub.
3-5 ft.
naturalize, tsc, deciduous, fall interest, low maintenance, bees, fall color, nectar, pollinator, pollinator plant, honeybees, songbirds, rain garden, wildlife, butterflies, showy

NCCES plant id: 487

Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle' H. arborescens 'Annabelle' growth habit
Dale McNeil, CC BY-NC-2.0
Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle' H. arborescens 'Annabelle' bloom
Elsa Spezio, CC-BY-SA-2.0
Hydrangea arborescens 'Grandiflora' H. arborescens 'Grandiflora' with Hellebores and Epimedium
Leonora Enking, CC-BY-SA-2.0
Hydrangea arborescens 'Invincibelle Spirit' H. arborescens 'Invincibelle Spirit' by NC Hort
Thomas Ranney
Hydrangea arborescens 'Invincibelle Spirit H. arborescens 'Invincibelle Spirit' bloom by NC Hort
Thomas Ranney