Yes, Schizophragma hydrangeoides looks like a climbing hydrangea but it is not the common climber which is Hydrangea petiolaris. This one comes from Japan and we prefer it to the usual form despite its difficult name. It is a close relative and a member of the same family but one step further back on the plant hierarchy from species to genus to family. Planted side by side, the schizophragma (pronounced skitsofragma or shyzofragma, whichever you prefer) is more floriferous and has significantly larger flower heads which seem to dance on the vine. This may be because its larger, winged petals (technically bracts, not petals) are held singly whereas H. petiolaris has its smaller bracts grouped in four, like a little flower all on its own. The schizophrama is self-clinging and relatively slow growing so it doesn’t take over and swamp neighbouring plants. It needs something to climb up, however. If left to ramble at ground level, it doesn’t seem to flower though it does layer its way along so you can get more plants from it by this strategy.
The pink form is even more unusual. This fact was often not appreciated in the days when we used to sell plants. I recall too many customers who were at best ABP – Anything But Pink, at worst IOBW – I Only Buy White (flowers). Such self-imposed rules can certainly limit appreciation.
Schizophragma are hardy and deciduous so, to all intents and purposes, they fill an identical niche to H. petiolaris. However, petiolaris seems to perform better overseas where it is more floriferous and even gives autumn colour. Talking to our friend and colleague, hydrangea expert Glyn Church, we agreed that it is likely that petiolaris prefers a colder winter than we have, whereas the schizophragmas are perfectly happy in our conditions. As with lacecap hydrangeas, the winged ‘petals’ or bracts are the showy part whereas the proper flowers are the small, less spectacular bits behind the bracts.