Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The Sterile Hydrangea

One of the most consistently popular garden shrubs we see when surveying Reading gardens is the humble Hydrangea. With their waxy, perfectly formed, chiselled leaves and dense covering of bright pom-pom 'flower' heads that last the whole season (and which make good interior decorations when dried), and tendency to surprise you with their colour depending on the acidity of soil you have, they might be considered one of the best garden plants.

But in fact most Hydrangea specimens in gardens are flowerless. Those bright clusters of pink, blue, purple or white 'petals' are in fact no more than modified leaves. Like a dogwood, the cultivated strains of Hydrangea macrophylla that produce those bulbous, long-lived 'flower' clusters have only flower-mimic bracts. These bright mimics contain no reproductive parts. This means no pollen or nectar for pollinators. Take a look at your Hydrangea 'flowers' today – and see if a bee, or hoverfly visits those bright displays.

 Hydrangea macrophylla with sterile "flowers"

But its not all bad news for Hydrangea-lovers! There are other, beautiful varieties (“lacecaps”) that do have flowers, and are great for pollinators. We found this glorious specimen in a Tilehurst garden (see photo`s below), and it was consistently visited by bumbles, honey bees, and hoverflies. 

 Hydrangea macrophylla with fertile flowers and a bumblebee visiting


  1. Our white lace cap variety is loved by bees as well.

  2. Well, they say you're never too old to learn. I never knew this. I will keep a watchful eye as I have both in my mid Devon garden