Donald's mother was created by Carl Barks, who first mentioned her in a Donald Duck family tree he wrote down in the 1950s. On this tree, Hortense was included as Scrooge's sister and Grandma Duck's daughter-in-law. Barks gave Donald's mother the name Hortense McDuck, and also mentioned her husband, Donald's father, whom he named Quackmore Duck.
Donald's mother made her animated debut with a brief appearance in the 1955 short No Hunting, where she looks like a duck version of the famous 1871 painting "Whistler's Mother". The same idea was later used for Daisy's mother in the cartoon Donald's Diary.
Donald's parents first appeared in Donald Duck Writes a Book. In Donald's flashback, they could be seen dancing to the music of a gramophone in one panel. Donald's mother had a typical années folles (1920s) haircut. Donald tells that his parents were not rich, but nonetheless fun-loving persons.
In Mark Worden's illustrated version of Barks' 1950s Duck family tree, Hortense and Quackmore were also given a portrait.
In Of Ducks, Dimes and Destinies, Donald's mother can be seen on a picture in Donald's house while the family is having dinner. In the same story, Magica De Spell tries to obtain the Number One Dime before Scrooge earned it, by travelling back in time to Scrooge's childhood, where she also encounters Hortense, who is still a baby at this point.
In The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, Hortense is a recurring character. According to this series, she is the youngest of Scrooge's sisters. She's a toddler when her eldest brother Scrooge leaves Scotland for America. In the series' 10th chapter The Invader of Fort Duckburg, she leaves Scotland for Duckburg, U.S.A, where she meets Quackmore, Grandma Duck's son, who has a temper very similar to her own. In the beginning of The Empire-Builder from Calisota, Hortense and Quackmore are engaged. This story also shows that she, together with her sister Matilda, hired Emily Quackfaster, Scrooge's secretary. Near the end of the story, she leaves Duckburg with her sister, her husband and their children, Donald and Della.
Donald also mentions his mother in The Sharpie of the Culebra Cut (Uncle Scrooge #332).
In Return to Xanadu (1991), Scrooge mentions that he used to fix his two sisters' dolls back in Scotland when he was a child.
Donald's mother was also mentioned in the Quack Pack episode "Can't Take a Yolk". When the nephews discover that the formula will keep their uncle getting younger until he hatches back into the egg, Huey says: "Better call Grandma. She's in for a big surprise...".
Hortense is mentioned and appears in a photograph in the premier of DuckTales, where Webby Vanderquack identifies her as a connecting relation between Donald and his nephews and Scrooge. In "The First Adventure!", Hortense sends a letter to his brother, Scrooge, to look after her kids, Della and Donald, while their father is at hospital.
A picture of Quackmore and Hortense is seen in the episode "Dope-a Cabana".
- Hortense is also the name of the ostrich in Donald's Ostrich.
- Scrooge named his horse after his sister because they have similar tempers.
- She is named after a flower, just like her son's girlfriend Daisy Duck. This creates a connection between two important women in Donald's life.
- In two comic stories, Donald himself unwittingly references his mother's baby speech:
- In Of Ducks, Dimes and Destinies by Don Rosa, Donald is shown sleeping and makes the sound "glxblt" when he snores.
- In The Dream of a Lifetime, also by Rosa, Donald (who is inside Scrooge's dreams, trying to stop the Beagle Boys) finds his mother as a baby in Scrooge's dreams about his childhood. When Fergus, seemingly thinking Donald is a kidnapper, strangles him, Donald exclaims "blxglt!?".
- When Webby met Matilda, she called her the youngest of Clan McDuck. Could've been a mistake as Hortense is the youngest actually, but the series was probably a change-up of the comic series, which meant that Hortense is now the middle in the series while Matilda is the youngest child.