Botany word of the month.


A few weeks ago, I received a question from a gardener in the city who wanted to know about the best hydrangeas to grow in Calgary. Due to our climate, we’re not able to overwinter the really showstopping bigleaf types (H. macrophylla) that gardeners in warmer regions can, but we still have some extremely nice selections to choose from. I suggested that, due to sufficient cold hardiness, smooth hydrangeas (H. arborescens) and panicle hydrangeas (H. paniculata) tend to fare best in our part of the world – and then he wanted to know: what on earth did I mean by the word ”panicle”?

Good question! The term panicle is often associated with grasses. Most grass panicles are easy to identify. Here is an example: Take a look at the fuzzy top of foxtail barley (Hordeum jubatum, a beautiful but persistent, troublesome weed here in Alberta). That lovely plume is a panicle, a type of compound flower head that features long, sliver-like awns, which can cause pain for livestock that accidentally graze on the plant.

With hydrangeas, what we think of as one huge flower is actually a panicle. Like the fuzzy flower head of foxtail barley, a hydrangea’s panicle is a compound inflorescence. It is made up of tiny individual florets, which are attached via pedicels (stem-like structures) to “branches” called racemes. Panicle hydrangeas are named for this type of floral arrangement.

Do you grow hydrangeas (any types)? If so, which ones are your favourites? (If you have any, please feel free to link up to photos of your hydrangeas on your blog or website – I’d love to see them!).


  1. We have tried growing hydrangeas but our soil doesn’t have the right PH level in it for them to grow properly. 😒

    • Definitely try a panicle type, Kathy – they are tolerant of a wide range of soil pH and you’re not hitting extremely alkaline or acidic soils where you live. You should be good to go. Panicles don’t change bloom colour depending on soil pH. There are some nice ones to choose from…maybe try ‘Pinky Winky’ – I think you’d love that one.

  2. Sorry, no hydrangea pictures. There are some out in the landscapes, but they are nothing special, and I do not know what any of them are. We used to grow them at the farm a long time ago.

    • We’re so starved for big bold flowers here in our climate that hydrangeas – any of them – are much sought after. I can see that it wouldn’t be like that everywhere; in some parts of the world they are commonplace and not as attention-worthy as here.

      • Although they are something that I would not have selected, they happen to be a good fit for the redwoods. They just sort of belong here. The only problem is that they do not bloom so well in the shade.

  3. Sheryl, thanks for the info. There is always so much to learn about plants. We have had good success here with several Hydrangea. My husband is a big fan, so I bought him one for his birthday a year ago May. I’ll go see if I have a blog post.

  4. Really interesting. I love hydrangeas. We have often holidayed in Brittany in France where they grow in profusion. I have 6 in my garden, at various stages of growth. I tried drying the heads last year as my friend had given me a bunch of dark blue hydrangeas, but they curled up, which was disappointing. I hope to get a few more, either Limelight or Vanilla Fraise varieties. (I live in the east of the UK).

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