Plant of the Week: Gray Birch

Chelsea Grasslands The High Line’s gray birch trees offer a last burst of fall color on the park’s landscape.

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.

EnlargePhoto by Mat McDermott

The High Line has two varieties of gray birch, Betula populifolia and the cultivar Betula populifolia ‘Whitespire’ which are nearly indistinguishable to the naked eye. Gray birch trees are native to North America, with a range along the eastern side of the continent from New Jersey to Nova Scotia. They can be recognized by their gray bark and dark triangular patches where branches meet the trunk. Unlike their close relatives, the paper birch, gray birches do not shed their bark. In the spring flowers appear in the form of catkins, which mature eventually into numerous small winged seeds. This time of year the foliage turns a brilliant orange.

The ‘Whitespire’ cultivar of gray birch was selected by Dr. Ed Hasselkus, at the University of Wisconsin's Longenecker Garden, for its increased resistance to Bronze Birch Borer, a common and potentially lethal pest for birch trees.

On the High Line between Gansevoort and West 17th Streets, West 21st and West 22nd Streets, and West 28th and West 30th Streets

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