Category Archives: native plant

Bloom Day–A Tale of Two Hydrangeas

When I moved to this shady neighborhood with towering hardwood trees nearly seven years ago, I was happy to find several species of hydrangeas growing in the garden. Since then, I’ve added even more of these beautiful and easy-to-grow shrubs.

My favorite hydrangea was not planted here, however, it grows wild. Hydrangea radiata, though limited in its native range to the southern Appalachian region, is common in the Upstate and I often see it on my wildflower hikes. In the garden here, it grows on a moist, north-facing slope above the Reedy River.

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Hydrangea radiata, commonly called silverleaf.

Called silverleaf by those who prefer common names, this hydrangea has striking foliage as well as pretty flowers. While the upper surface of the leaf is green, the underside is bright white, a tale-tell feature easily seen when ruffled by wind.

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Hydrangea foliage (top row, left to right): a small unidentified cultivar with pale pink booms, H. radiata, and H. arborescens ‘Incrediball’; and (bottom row, left to right): H. macrophylla and H. quercifolia.

In June, creamy-white blooms open at the tips of the shrub’s spreading branches.  Clusters are flat-topped, with larger, sterile flowers surrounding a center of fertile flowers that produce pollen and seeds. One of the nicest things about this hydrangea is that it attracts a wide variety of pollinators.

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A very bee-friendly shrub.

In early spring 2012, I added a (then) new selection of hydrangea to the garden that also blooms in June. Named Incrediball, this Hydrangea arborescens, commonly known as smooth hydrangea, is touted as an improvement over its popular parent, Annabelle, offering thicker, sturdier stems that prevent flopping after rain.

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Incrediball hydrangea (H. arborescens)

Like others of its species, Incrediball blooms on new wood, so even when killed to the ground during a hard winter, new branches produce summer flowers. It’s also said to be more floriferous than Annabelle, with up to four times more flowers.

This selection, with its bold white blooms that fade to parchment and persist throughout the winter, has become a great favorite. Sadly, it’s also much-loved by voles, but that’s another story.

Linking to Garden Bloggers Bloom Day at May Dreams Gardens.

First Flower

South Carolina’s native cowcumber magnolia (M. macrophylla) bears the largest leaves and flowers of all North American trees.  After days of heavy rain, I looked out the window this morning into a gray fog and noticed a brilliant white bloom on the cowcumber I planted in the woodland garden almost exactly 5 years ago.

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Magnolia macrophylla

Purchased as a seedling at a spring sale of the Upstate Chapter of the SC Native Plant Society, the small tree now stands about 5-feet tall.  A few hours into the day, when the flower began to open, I took photos to record the momentous occasion.

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First flower highlighted by morning light.

The leaves of this deciduous magnolia can reach 32-inches long and its blooms up to 20-inches across, but the largest leaf on this immature tree measures 24-inches and the flower’s tepals are 6-inches long, which would make a 12-inch spread when fully open.

The underside of leaves have a sheen that is silver to white and the tepals are marked with purple at their base, which is another unique feature.

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Purple markings at the base of the flower tepals are an identifying feature.

Found in scattered populations throughout  the Southeast, M. macrophylla is very rare in South Carolina, with only two small viable populations remaining in York County (primarily due to a preference for neutral soils).  Thus, the tree is listed as critically imperiled in this state.

Luckily, however, it is fairly easy to grow in cultivation and is popular with native-plant aficionados and in-the-know gardeners for its spectacular leaves and flowers.