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Wild hydrangea

Flowers of wild hydrangea.

Wild hydrangea is a hardy, adaptable shrub grown for its large, cloud-like clusters of early summer flowers that start out pale green and turn to white then eventually fade to brown adding winter interest to the landscape. Since it flowers on the tips of the new growth its flower buds are not diminished by harsh winters. It is native to woodlands in the eastern U.S.  For garden purposes, cultivated varieties are more attractive.

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

Botanical name:

Hydrangea arborescens

All common names:

Wild hydrangea, Smooth hydrangea, Sevenbark, Tree hydrangea

Family (English):


Family (Botanic):


Tree or Plant Type:

  • Shrub

Native Locale:

  • Illinois,
  • North America

Landscape Uses:

  • Foundation,
  • Hedge,
  • Massing,
  • Mixed border,
  • Specimen

Size Range:

  • 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 4,
  • Zone 5 (Chicago),
  • Zone 6,
  • Zone 7,
  • Zone 8,
  • Zone 9

Soil Preference:

  • Moist, well-drained soil


  • Alkaline soil,
  • Road salt

Seasons of Interest:

  • early summer,
  • midsummer,
  • late summer,
  • early fall

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • White

Shape or Form:

  • Mounded

Growth Rate:

  • Fast

More Information:

Size and Form

3 to 5 feet high and wide; multi-stemmed, mounded form.

Tree & Plant Care

Thrives in rich, moist, well-drained soil, pH adaptable (can handle soils from acid to alkaline).
Best in part shade. Drought-sensitive; may need to be watered in hot summer weather or leaves will droop.
Plants benefit with a layer of mulch to conserve moisture and moderate soil temperature.
Prune in late winter.  This species can be cut back to the ground or thin colony to control size.  

Disease, pests and problems

No serious problems.

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value: 10 (native to only one county near the Chicago area)
Native to southern Illinois, east into Virginia and south into Alabama and Georgia.

Bark color and texture 

Smooth, shiny gray-brown stems.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Simple, opposite leaves; 2 to 8 inches long; oval, dark green with serrated edges; fall color yellow or brown.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Large rounded clusters of early summer flowers that start out pale green and turn to white.
Dried, tan flower heads add winter interest to the landscape.

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

Wild hydrangea, cultivar Annabelle

Annabelle (Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle'): One of the most popular hydrangea cultivars because of its extremely large rounded inflorescences. Individual creamy-white flower heads can be 12 inches in diameter and bloom in mid-June against dark, serrated foliage.  It was selected from a plant found growing in the wild near the town of Anna in southern Illinois. Plants reach 3 to 4 feet high.

Bella Anna(Hydrangea arborescens 'PIIHA-I'):  Similar to 'Annabelle' but with pink flowers; strong stems to support the large flower clusters. Plants reach 2 to 3 feet high.

Hayes Starburst  (Hydrangea arborescens 'Hayes Starburst'):  Clusters of white, double flowers producing a starburst effect.  Plants reach 2 to 3 feet high.

Hills-of-Snow hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens 'Grandiflora'): Commonly used cultivar is admired for its large, clean, white flower clusters. The 6 to 8-inch flower heads are not as large or symmetrical as the cultivar 'Annabelle' hydrangea, but they contrast well against the dark, serrated foliage.  Plants reach 3 to 4 feet high.

Wild hydrangea, cultivar White Dome

Incrediball® (Hydrangea arborescens 'Abetwo'): An improved, large version of 'Annabelle.'  Large, 12-inch, creamy white, ball-shaped flower heads are held upright on thick stems. Plants reach 4 to 5 feet high.

Invincibelle® Spirit (Hydrangea arborescens 'NCHA1'): Dark pink buds open to 6 to 8 inch wide rosy pink flower clusters, changing to soft pink as they mature; dark green leaves turn a buttery yellow in fall; flowers are good for drying. Plants reach 4 to 5 feet high.

White Dome® (Hydrangea arborescens 'Dardom'): White, dome-shaped, lacecap flowers, 4 to 6 inches wide, appear in June on loosely branched, suckering stems with dark green foliage. Plants reach 4 to 6 feet high.


Location of Hydrangea arborescens (Wild hydrangea) at the Arboretum