I am often asked to help someone identify what kind of hydrangea they have. Many people have plants that they inherited when they bought their home, or someone gave it to them, or they lost the tag, etc. You may wonder why this matters. It matters ‘cause in hydrangea-land you treat different kinds of hydrangeas different ways. I’m here to tell you all is not lost. I can help you figure out what kind you have.

IDENTIFY BY LOOKING AT THE FLOWER

When it comes to identifying what kind of hydrangea you have, it all starts with the flowers. Take a look at them and determine if they are round balls or football shaped/cones. If the flower is round, go one step further: what color is it? If it is pink or blue (or can change to those two colors), it can be a big leaf hydrangea (macrophylla, sometimes called French hydrangea or hortensia).

Blue hydrangea flower

Blue mophead hydrangea flower

Pink mophead hydrangea flower

Pink mophead hydrangea flower

 It might also be a mountain (Serrata) hydrangea. Look at the foliage to identify your type of hydrangea. Mountain hydrangea foliage has serrated edges that are often tinted maroon at the edges.  

Hydrangea serrata foliage showing typical notching and colored edges

Mountain hydrangea foliage showing typical notching and colored edges

The round hydrangea flower form comes in what is called a mophead or lacecap version. The lacecap flower has outer petals that surround the pollen capsules in the center. 

Hydrangea serrata 'Blue Billow' in electric blue

Hydrangea serrata ‘Blue Billow’ shows its electric blue lacecap flowers

 

Invincibelle Lace™ Hydrangea arborescens subsp. Radiata

Invincibelle Lace™ Hydrangea arborescens subsp. Radiata has plum-hued lacecap flowers and purple stems

 

USE FOLIAGE TO IDENTIFY WHAT KIND YOU HAVE

Be aware that a round pink or white flower could also be a woodland/smooth hydrangea (arborescens). Here again the foliage will tell you which one it is.

 

Big leaf hydrangea leaf

Big leaf hydrangea foliage

 

Woodland hydrangea foliage

Woodland hydrangea foliage

 Woodland hydrangea flowers are never blue, only white, pink, and green (so far).

FOOTBALL AND CONE SHAPED FLOWERS

If your flower is football or cone shaped, it can be one of two kinds. These flowers are also never blue. In fact, most are cream/white/green colors, and age to pink and rose. The foliage will tell the tale. If the leaves look like those of an oak tree, it is an oak leaf hydrangea (quercifolia).

Leaf of an Oak Leaf Hydrangea

Leaf of an oak leaf hydrangea

On the other hand, if the foliage is pointy and sometimes arrow-shaped, it is a panicle (paniculata) hydrangea.

Panicle hydrangea foliag

Panicle hydrangea foliage

CLIMBING HYDRANGEA VINE IDENTIFICATION

If your plant is a vine with a pink or white/cream colored lacecap flower, it is a climbing hydrangea. The white one is petiolaris and the pink one is schizophragma hydrangeoides.

White Climbing hydrangea

White climbing hydrangea flower

 

Pink climbing hydrangea

Pink climbing hydrangea flower

MYSTERY SOLVED! 

See how easy that was? Now you know which kind you have which will help you immensely when it comes to things like pruning, changing flower color, etc.

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