That is a real flower, not a silk or paper one and it is a hydrangea. It is often called the oak leaf hydrangea – oaks are quercus, hence the quercifolia. It is native to south eastern USA.
This particular plant, which I photographed in my sister’s garden last week, is surviving on benign neglect. It has its roots in the open but the plant has spread so that the flowers are under the cover of a carport, conditions it clearly relishes. We have it planted in woodland areas here but this plant was more spectacular. Apparently it started flowering in November and has been looking really good ever since. The flower heads are in long cones and while “Snowflake” is described as a double form, in fact it forms multiple layers of petals down the stems ageing from white to antique pink shades. In autumn, the foliage colours up to deep burgundy red shades before falling.
H. quercifolia is not fussy about soil types but it needs to be rich, moist and well drained even through summer. It will grow in sun or shade although it is probably easier to keep those moist conditions in semi shade. There are a number of different named cultivars, but “Snowflake” is probably the most spectacular. If you can’t source it from your local garden centre, then mail order hydrangea specialists Woodleigh Nursery have it available on their website.
First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.