One of the questions we're asked most often is, what's the difference between 'Annabelle' and Incrediball hydrangea? They appear to be almost identical on the surface, but a closer look - and a little bit of background on both - reveals them to be quite different.
Both 'Annabelle' and Incrediball are selections of our North American native Hydrangea arborescens. This species is also known as smooth hydrangea, wild seven-bark, wild hydrangea, hills-of-snow hydrangea, just to name a few. In the wild, the flowers of Hydrangea arborescens are almost exclusively lacecap, but that changed when, in the early 1960s, the rumor of a mophead hills-of-snow hydrangea growing in rural Anna, Illinois, made its way to the ear of Dr. Joe McDaniels at the University of Illinois. He made the trip to see for himself, and discovered growing along a horse path a big, bold, beautiful mophead hydrangea. Locals told him it had been passed down and around between family and friends for many years. He knew it was something special, so he collected cuttings and soon after introduced the plant as 'Annabelle', for the "belles of Anna" who had saved it all those years. It has become so popular that many people refer to Hydrangea arborescens in general as Annabelle hydrangeas; however, technically, that name refers strictly to the specific variety collected by Dr. McDaniel.
Incrediball hydrangea originated in Grand Haven, Michigan. Plant breeder Tim Wood set out to create a plant with the fab flowers of 'Annabelle' but improved stem strength. He crossed 'Annabelle' with various other Hydrangea arborescens, evaluated thousands of seedlings and eventually, plants, and finally selected Incrediball in 2009.
'Annabelle' typically reaches around 3-4'/.9-1.2m tall and 4-5'/1.2-1.5m wide. Incrediball is a bit taller at 4-5'/1.2-1.5m tall but equally as wide.
Flower Color and Size
One of the reasons that 'Annabelle' was an instant hit was because it's a hardy, reliable bloomer, producing dozens of big, full mophead flowers every year, even in very cold climates.
Incrediball is equally as reliable and hardy, but its flowers are even bigger than 'Annabelle' - on a mature plant in ideal conditions, we've seen them reach the size of basketballs! In the photo below, Incrediball is in the man's right hand, while 'Annabelle' is in his left.
In terms of color, both are similar, starting out green, opening to white, and then aging to a nice jade green. That color persists until frost, at which point both turn brown. If the flowers on your smooth hydrangea turn brown prematurely, this usually indicates they've experienced water and/or heat stress.
'Annabelle' has earned many avid fans in its decades on the market, but even the most ardent 'Annebelle'-r admit that if it has a fault, it's that its stems are weak. This is at its worst after a summer rain storm, when the wind and water cause them to bend over and not recover. This covers the flowers in mud, and completely changes the nature of the display.
Incrediball was developed and selected specifically to remedy this issue, and amazingly, combines even larger flowers with very sturdy stems. While Incrediball may experience some flopping, particularly on lower branches, it is a far neater plant and holds most of its stems proudly upright in the summer, even if a storm hits.
Both plants have a place in North American gardens, but given the choice - and having extensive experience with both - our pick is Incrediball.