Ruby Slippers Make the Plant
At some point in most people’s lives they wish they had a pair of Dorothy’s ruby slippers. Who wouldn’t want the ease of getting home with just a click of the heels? Travel just became ten times easier. Plus, some women just can’t say no to a pair of killer red heels. But here’s the kicker: in L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Dorothy’s slippers were actually silver. The creators of the 1939 film made the now iconic change from silver to red. Designers dyed the shoes red and then overlapped them with burgundy sequined organza netting. There are an estimated 2,300 sequins on each shoe! The pair on display in the National Museum of American History had felt placed on the bottom to muffle the sound it made against the yellow brick road during dance scenes.
So why were the shoes such a big deal? Why was the color change so important? Besides the fact that ruby red looked great in Technicolor, it added a whimsical feel. It transformed the farm girl from Kansas into a self-empowered young woman. Red can change not only the look of a person, but plants as well. The Oakleaf Hydrangea ‘Ruby Slippers’ on the National Museum of American History’s grounds is a perfect example. Located on the north side of the museum on either side of the half circle drive, Hydrangea quercifolia is a great addition to the area. These hydrangeas can grow in Zones 5 through 9 and are well suited for Washington, D.C.’s Zone 7. In 2011, the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington D.C. gave the Oakleaf Hydrangea a makeover and introduced this lovely cultivar.
The ‘Ruby Slippers’ cultivar borrows quite a few attributes from Dorothy and her infamous shoes. Like Dorothy, the plant is a United States native. Like the shoes, its blooms are nine inches long. The blooms start out silvery white, like the slippers in the book, but gradually change to a deep, rich ruby like the slippers in the film. The plant is altogether more petite than its parent plant, which can grow to a typical height and width of eight feet. While these qualities might not seem like a major change, this cultivar takes on a whole new look, with a major dose of pizzazz. Its oak leaf-shaped leaves and brilliant red-orange autumn color are only improved by the changing flower color. The National Arboretum was so fond of the plant that they stuck with the Wizard of Oz theme, introducing Oakleaf Hydrangea ‘Munchkin’ in 2011. Who knows, maybe they’ll introduce ‘Wicked Witch’ next? Whatever they decide it’ll be exciting to see.
-Katie Hix, Horticulture Intern