Though I would never admit to being a cheerleader, I somehow find myself surrounded by pom-poms. 

These pom-poms won’t cheer for the team (although they may cheer you), and they come in many colors besides Vineyardpurple. Look for pink, white or blue pom-pom-like poufs all around town: after all, summer in Edgartown means hydrangeas.

Hydrangeas, with their large bunch of blooms, will be flowering throughout the summer. Their ‘school’ colors can vary greatly, and one must have passed chemistry class to understand their changing and changeable hues.

Soil characteristics are a determining factor. Basic chemistry describes the conditions that affect the color ofhydrangeas: pHmatters. To explain, pH describes a substance as acidic, basic (alkalai), or neutral on a scale of one tofourteen. Seven is neutral, while anything below seven is considered an acid and over seven is an alkalai or ‘basic.’

Hydrangeas that live in acidic soil with low pH and low aluminum content produce flowers that are blue. Basic soils, or those with a high pH, yield pink flowers, while neutral soils will provide cream-coloredblossoms. 

Flower color need not be static. You have the power to createchange. It is easy to go from pink to blue flowers: simply add aluminum to the soil to increase thepH. Going from blue to pink is harder, as it is more difficult to remove the aluminum and reduce thepH. 

Intensity, however, is another story, one that is based on genetics, weather and the plant’s health. If your hydrangeas are faded, you are simply out of luck, as there is no quick fix to brighten them.

The pom-pom flower variety, referred to as mophead, is not the only type of hydrangea bloom. Also look for the panicle (cone-shaped) and lace cap varieties. For reproduction, use the lace cap variety, since the mophead, or hortensia, produces only sterile flowers.

It is not only beauty that is provided by hydrangeas, but also health, both good and bad. As a poison, it is observed to be mildly toxic to humans and moderately toxic to cats, dogs and horses, due to the presence of cyanogenic glycoside (a cyanide-containing compound).

Even with this warning, some varieties have found medicinal uses. A quote from Dr. Scudder, writing in 1874, describes hydrangea as a panacea for urinary and prostateconditions: 

“This is a valuable remedy in diseases of urinary apparatus. It gives tone to the kidneys, improving their functional activity, and thus tends to arrest the formation of urinary deposits and calculi. It relieves irritation of the bladder and urethra and hence proves serviceable in cases of gravel.”  

Another recommendation is to use it to reduce hemorrhage and hypertension, and some sources note that it is more potent than quinine as an antimalarial.

Only five species (but many cultivars) are widely planted in the United States; of these, only two are native to this country. One native, the oak leaf hydrangea, is the state flower of Alabama, though neither of the natives are indigenous to our Island. The other alien mopheads come from Asia and South America.

Rooting for the home team, then, doesn’t just mean rooting for our native homegrown heroes. In the case of hydrangeas, it means more than just appreciating the waving of their pompoms; it literally means rooting them in the kind of soil most likely to bring out the desired color scheme.  And for hydrangeas, color is the name of the game.


Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.