The Alabama State Wildflower

My next writing task or Mission Impossible, should I choose to accept it, and I do, is to research every state wildflower. The purpose is to educate myself and you and learn to recognize and appreciate more wildflowers. The first state on the agenda (and I will tackle each in alphabetical order) is Alabama. The official state flower is the Oak Leaf Hydrangea which is interesting in that I considered this plant an ornamental landscape vaeiety and was surprised that it is considered a wildflower.

Once I complete all fifty states I might move to North American national wildflowers and visit exotic rain forests in Panama and Costa Rica. Wouldn’t that be fun?

Let’s stay focused! The Oak Leaf Hydrangea is found in every county in Alabama and probably most southern states as well.

Hydrangea quercifolia, commonly called oak leaf hydrangea, is an upright, broad-rounded, suckering, multi-stemmed, deciduous shrub that typically grows 4-6′ (less frequently to 8′) tall. It is native to bluffs, moist woods, ravines and stream banks from Georgia to Florida to Louisiana. It is noted for producing pyramidal panicles of white flowers in summer on exfoliating branches clad with large, 3-7 lobed, oak-like, dark green leaves. Genus name comes from hydor meaning water and aggeion meaning vessel in reference to the cup-like capsular fruit. Specific epithet is in reference to the leaves that look like those of Quercus (oak).

The Oak Leaf Hydrangea is a beautiful landscape plant that needs moisture and heavy frost protection.

This Hydrangea has few pests and adapts well to most soils although it does best in well-drained but moist locations either in full sun or partial shade. So if I were planting this deciduous bush in Georgia I would amend the clay and mulch heavily. Blooms are on second-year wood so medium sized nursery plants may be the best way to get started. Propagation is by suckering so it will spread and may have to be contained. Let’s look closely at the blossom and leaf.

Native Oak Leaf Hydrangeas are white with a greenish-yellow center. This is a double blossom variety called “Snowflake”.
Leaves are Red Oak shaped and will turn red, yellow, or orange if planted in afternoon sun.

What about pollinators? The showy hydrangeas of nursery fame provide little in food for pollinators and if that is your goal, then consider native varieties only. The white sepals draw visiting bees and beetles to the small pollen laden flower at the center and in the wild sepals are few and miniscue flowers abound.

The more you look at this wild Oak Leal Hydrangea, the more pollinators you will find. Yes, some of those bugs are Japanese Beetles! Note the shortage of white sepals and abundance of small flowers typical of wild plants.

So how did you like the Stae Wildflower of Alabama? Tomorrow we look at Alaska and one of my favorite wildflowers.

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