Hydrangea quercifolia (Oakleaf Hydrangea)–PLANT FIX

Honeybee and syrphid fly

The oakleaf hydrangeas are in full bloom and abuzz.  I would have never guessed that hydrangea, of all things, provides pollen and/or nectar to pollinators, but low and behold, the bed with 4 established Hydrangea quercifolia is alive with “winged things”.  After the deafening sound of buzzing halted me in my footsteps on the way back from the mailbox the other day, I stopped to watch the dance.  An amazing number of honeybees, some bumblebees and syrphid flies–pollinators all, were flitting from flower to flower and even flying into each other.  A few well-placed spiders were getting a decent catch in their webs.

Two oakleaf hydrangeas with Epimedium at their feet

This new discovery thrills me no end!  In all the lists of plants to attract pollinators, I’ve never seen hydrangea recommended, but now I’m a believer.  The creamy white panicles are conical shaped and have both the large, sterile flowers that tinge pink as they age, and the tiny flowers that were what attracted so many insects.  I am unsure as to whether the flowers provide pollen or nectar or both, but certainly the small, fertile flowers offer something good.  I believe that pollen was available since the pollen I noted on the honey bees’ back legs was paler in color than I am used to seeing.  No telling if any other species of hydrangea provide “floral rewards” to beneficial insects, or if even the oakleaf cultivars such as ‘Snow Queen’ and their larger flower heads with more prominent sterile flowers provide less.

Cool foliage and stellar blooms make for a late season standout.

Folks like the easy care of oakleaf hydrangea, which is an ornamental shrub holding many attributes: big, shapely leaves; reliable red fall color and profuse late summer flowers.  Drought tolerant once established, left alone by most deer and attractive to boot, it’s not difficult to see why so many people grow it.  Now there’s another reason to love it–it brings beneficial insects to the late summer garden.

© Colleen Miko, 2012

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About Colleen Miko

Colleen Miko is a certified professional horticulturist with 20 years experience in landscape design who has designed award winning gardens for the NW Flower & Garden Show as well as HGTV’s “Landscaper’s Challenge”. Colleen is a freelance garden writer and speaker who regularly writes "The Perennial Bookworm" where she reviews garden and natural science books, as well as a regular contributor to "WestSound Home & Garden Magazine" on a variety of horticulture topics.
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