Plant of the Week: Prairie Sundrop

Photo by Friends of the High LinePrairie sundrop (Oenothera pilosella) are a cheerful presence on the High Line. Photo by Friends of the High Line

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 one of our gardeners’ current favorites with you.

Oenothera pilosella has such cheerful flowers. They begin encased in a pretty red calyx – an outer layer of modified leaves – that splits open to reveal four glorious yellow petals: prairie sundrop, indeed. The flowers are about two inches wide, and the petals are finely lined with transparent stripes that serve as nectar guides, being far more visible to insects than to humans. The plants are low-growing, not more than 18 inches tall, but they spread by a rhizomatous root system, forming flower-covered colonies of what is perhaps the happiest groundcover of all. Native to meadows of the Northeast United States and Eastern Canada, prairie sundrop grows best in full sun and tolerates poor soils and varying moisture.

O. pilosella blooms during the day, but it is a member of the evening primrose family (Onagraceae). It is closely related to the taller, coarser common evening primrose (Oenothera biennis), which does, in fact, open fragrant yellow flowers on summer evenings – sometimes so quickly that you can actually see the petals unfurl. Common evening primrose grew abundantly in the High Line’s self-seeded landscape while the railroad was unused, and it still grows wild in the Rail Yards. The pink evening primrose, O. speciosa, a species with soft pink flowers with yellow throats, is planted throughout the Diller – von Furstenberg Sundeck and Water Feature.

Prairie sundrop can be found growing along the Hudson River Overlook between West 14th and West 15th Streets.

Download our June bloom list.

Our horticultural team counts on members and friends like you to help keep the High Line beautiful and thriving. Join our community of supporters who play an essential role in the High Line’s most important gardening projects – become a member of Friends of the High Line today!

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