Plant of the Week: Culver's Root

Veronicastrum virginicum. Photo by Friends of the High LineVeronicastrum virginicum, or Culver’s root. 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.

Veronicastrum virginicum is a native wildflower common to wet meadows in the eastern part of the United States. A handsome plant even before flowering, it stands up to seven feet tall with deep green leaves in groups of three to seven surrounding the upright stems in whorls like collars. The blooms are made up of hundreds of tiny white flowers on spikes that branch like candelabra. On the High Line they rise just above the matrix of grasses in the Chelsea Grasslands and draw your vision up out of the planting beds toward even taller perennials in the garden. Like so many of our native plants, Veronicastrum virginicum has medicinal uses – the plant purportedly gets its common name, Culver’s root, from a Doctor Culver, who prescribed the plant as a cathartic.

The Culver’s root is actually nearly done blooming on the High Line. The white spikes and spires are fading to a deep brown, but the slender dark stalks are strong and persistent – they provide vertical integrity among the swaying grasses as well as a foil to the much more common globe- and umbel-shaped seed heads in the garden. It is one of the first summer blooming perennials to turn, and at this moment the Veronicastrum virginicum is a beautiful presage of the High Line gardens in autumn.

Veronicastrum virginicum, or Culver’s root, was chosen for planting on the High Line by Johnny Linville, High Line gardener and Manager of Horticulture. The Veronicastrum is just one part of the legacy Johnny has left us. Visit it in his memory between West 18th and West 20th Streets.

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