Plant of the Week: Evening Primrose

Photo by Steven Severinghaus

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.

Butter-and-eggs plants are an important food source for bees. Photo by Steven Severinghaus

Photo by Steven Severinghaus

Between 2000 and 2002, Joel Sternfeld photographed a remarkable, self-sown landscape growing on an unused stretch of elevated railway on Manhattan’s West Side. His photographs of the High Line, images of long stretches of spontaneous meadow juxtaposed against the architecture of New York City’s recent industrial past, inspired early supporters of the High Line to save the structure and eventually informed the design team’s plant choices. With the opening of the High Line at the Rail Yards, park visitors can see, in person, the self-sown landscape for the first time.

Oenothera biennis, or evening primrose, is past peak bloom this third week of autumn. It is a particularly exuberant example of a plant species well adapted to the rarified environment of the High Line at the Rail Yards. A pioneer species, evening primrose actually thrives in poor, disturbed soils and is often one of the first plants to pop up at the edge of construction sites, in empty lots and along roadsides. A New York native, Oenothera biennis is an important source of food and habitat for North American pollinators. In fact, the Oenothera flowers have special veining in the petals, almost invisible to humans, which act as guidelines that lead insects directly to the nectar source.

Oenothera biennis is cultivated commercially for the oil of its seeds, which contain high levels of gamma-linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid with anti-inflamatory properties. Evening primrose oil is used cosmetically in skin care formulas as well as used topically and taken internally to treat eczema and to speed the healing of wounds and bruises. Evening primrose gets its common name from the fact that its flowers bloom late in the afternoon and only last until the following day when the next flush of blooms come out. The seed heads of the plant are stacked in rings around tall, sturdy, bright green stalks, which will hold their form through the fall and provide elegant, branching structure among the looser, finer textures of the grasses and goldenrods it grows among.


See Oenothera biennis growing wild along the Interim Walkway on the High Line from 30th Street and 11th Avenue up to 32nd Street. Two other species in this genus, Oenothera pilosella and O. speciosa, are planted on the High Line between 14th Streets and 15th Streets.

Download our October 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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