Hydrangeas belongs to a genus of 70 to 75 species of flowering plants, originating in East Asia, Southern Asia, Himalayas, and Indonesia, North and South Americas. The greatest diversity and number of species is to be found in Japan, Korea and China. However, garden cultivars number more than 600, and are growing ever year.
Hydrangeas (also sometimes called Hortensia) love volcanic acidic soil and summer rainy spells which explains why they thrive in the wild here in Japan.
There are two main kinds that you can easily make out.
The first is the Hortensia mop-head sort (Hydrangea macrophylla) you see pictured here is known as “ajisai” in Japanese.
The second sort of hydrangeas are called “gaku-ajisai“. “Gaku” means picture frame, you can see why from the picture. There are composed of tiny lacy caps surrounded by a “frame” of larger petals.
There is an enduring national hype, with bus-loads of Japanese tourists who travel all over the Japan to see hydrangea-laden spots, one of which is the Megeistu-in in Kamakura which I visited.
Hydrangea trivia: DID YOU KNOW that before sugar existed, the young leaves of one species of hydrangea were boiled to make amacha, a kind of sweet tea, and was also used as a sugar substitute?