Oakleaf hydrangea in full bloom. Notice the shape of the leaves. Photo: Tom Butzler
Found in the southern climes, H. quercifolia is suitable for zones 5 to 9 and may have some trouble in parts of Pennsylvania along the New York border. When Spring has finally sprung and warm weather starts to appear, there is still time to observe winter ornamental characteristics of some plants before the emerging foliage hides those features. This site has described the characteristics of several species of hydrangeas; Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle'; H. paniculata 'Bulk', also known as Quick Fire, and H. paniculata 'Limelight'. H. quercifolia, commonly known as oakleaf hydrangea will not only provide aesthetic value in the landscape in the spring and fall but also the winter.
Probably nothing can compete with paperbark maple's exfoliating bark for winter interest but oakleaf hydrangea's peeling bark can gain some attention in the landscape. As the stems age, the outer bark rolls back to showcase the orange or cinnamon colored inner bark.
The peeling bark of oakleaf hydrangea adds some interest to the plant during the dormant season. Photo: Tom Butzler
Its attributes continue well after winter. As spring progresses, the flowers will emerge on panicles in June. These will remain on the plant for several weeks and go through a variety of colors as they age (white to pink to brown). The leaves (resemble red oak leaves, hence it's common name) are a dark green throughout the summer and change to various shades of purple and red.
The straight species can grow into a large shrub, up to eight feet in spread and height, and may not be suitable for small spaces. There are some cultivars, such as H. quercifolia 'Snow Queen' that have been selected to have all the aesthetic values mentioned above but are more compact for those smaller gardens.