Plant of the Week: Prairie Dropseed

Prairie dropseed is a native grass, known for the distinct scent produced by its seed heads in the late summer. Photo by Cristina Macaya
 

The High Line’s planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew up between rail tracks after the trains stopped running in the 1980s. Today, the High Line includes more than 300 species of perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees — each chosen for their hardiness, adaptability, diversity, and seasonal variation in color and texture. Some of the species that originally grew on the High Line’s rail bed are reflected in the park landscape today.

This week we share with you one of our gardeners’ current favorites.

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Prairie dropseed, Sporobolus heterolepis, is a native grass found throughout North America, from the prairies of the west to the moist soils along the east coast. It’s a species of bunchgrass, which means it grows in clumps, rather than an even sod, like lawn grasses.

Prairie dropseed is a perennial, just like the rest of the High Line’s plants, and this species is a hearty long-lived one, with plants easily living to be 15 to 20 years old. You can view this grass on the High Line all year long. During the winter months, the texture and color of the dried grass clumps add visual interest to the park’s landscape. In the spring, you can find our gardeners trimming back the clumps to prepare for the new growing season.

But it is in the late summer, when the Prairie dropseed is covered with cream-colored panicles, that this grass becomes the horticultural star on the High Line. It is this time of year that the grass emits a curious scent that either delights or disgusts the park’s visitors. Some say it smells like cleaning supplies or soap. Others smell cilantro, popcorn, and fruits.

Come out to the park in the coming weeks to experience it for yourself.

WHERE TO SEE THIS PLANT
On the High Line between Little West 12 and West 14th Streets, West 17th and West 21st Streets, and West 27th and West 30th Streets.

Download our August Bloom Guide.

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