Plant of the Week: Sea Lavender

Sea lavender (Limonium platyphyllum) in bloom on the High Line. Photo by Friends of the High LineThe lovely sea lavender (Limonium platyphyllum) is in bloom 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.

New York City is known for its fast pace, but do take a minute and appreciate our latest plant of the week – Limonium platyphyllum – commonly known as sea lavender. Its common name derives from the plant's ability to thrive in coastal conditions and for its beautiful airy cluster of tiny, papery, lavender-blue flowers. Despite its common name, it is not related to lavender species, but actually belongs to the Plumbaginaceae, or leadwort, family. The Plumbaginaceae are mostly herbs and small shrubby plants. Many species have all or most of their leaves clustered at the base of the plant, and these leaves have chalk-glands. The glands are a key feature that allows members of the family to live in salty soils where most other species of plants cannot. The chalk-glands excrete calcareous salts dissolved in the water of the plant's tissues. This excretion moves the salts out of the plant where they may crystallize or be washed away.

Sea lavender is a clump-forming perennial native to southeastern and central Europe with a cold hardiness range of zones three to nine. At its base it has a rosette of six- to ten-inch elliptical, dark green, leathery leaves that lay almost flat against the ground. In midsummer wiry, branch-like stems create a 24-inch-high bonsai-esque mass composed of hundreds of tiny lavender-colored flowers. The flowers have five petals, five stamens, and five sepals that may be colorful and showy like the petals, but are often thin and papery. The flowers may be pink or blue, and are usually clustered together. This floral shape and the blue color are typical characteristics of flowers that are attractive to butterflies. However, several other pollinators also love this group of plants.

After enjoying several weeks of the peak bloom period, the true flowers dry out and gradually fall, leaving behind the branch-like structure that gives it the name “everlasting flower.” Limonium platyphyllum offers a multi-seasonal spectrum of interest to enjoy in a home garden or on the High Line. In your home garden this makes it a great candidate for use as a cut flower. It can also be used for drying and it is best to harvest for such use just before its tiny flower buds fully open.

Sea lavender is a relatively easy perennial to cultivate, with few cultural needs. Its hardy nature is a suitable choice for gravel plantings , especially in dry, hot, windy coastal gardens. Since the High Line is elevated and uses a gravel “mulch” layer, we do face and share some of the same unique environmental challenges, thus making it one of the garden's most resilient and reliable plants.

As you make your way through the different sections of the High Line, do notice our plantings beds are arranged in sweeps of colors and contrasts showing the potential of the visual aspect of the matrix patternthat was the vision of planting designer Piet Oudolf. Limonium’s inflorescence makes for a great addition and candidate for our planting beds by creating a soft haze that allows for other plants and flowers to blend and blur together creating a great contrast.

So the next time you are walking through the High Line, take a minute to slow down, appreciate and take a closer look at the small details that make sea lavender a big hit.

WHERE TO SEE THIS PLANT
You can find the sea lavender, Limonium platyphyllum, between West 27th and West 30th Streets.

Download our July 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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