Plant of the Week: Fragrant Wintersweet

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.

A striking trait of Chimonanthus praecox, known as fragrant wintersweet, is its sweetly fragrant late-winter blooms, usually coinciding with Chinese New Year. Fragrant wintersweet is a deciduous shrub in the Calycanthaceae family that is native to the mountainous forests of China, where it has been in cultivation for more than 1,000 years. In late winter, while other plants are dormant, is when this shrub shines. In spring, when its opposite simple leaves emerge, the fragrant wintersweet melts into its surroundings, forming a pleasant backdrop for nearby plants.

Photo by Friends of the High Line

Fragrant wintersweet grows 10 to 15 feet tall and 10 feet wide, preferring sun or dappled shade. This shrub wants well-draining soil and can be drought tolerant once established. Its arching branches give it a vase-shaped habit. Maintain the shape and vigorous display of scented flowers by pruning no more than a third of older branches down 6 to 12 inches above the ground in early spring, after bloom.


Savor the fragrance of this unique winter blooming shrub at the High Line in the Thicket between West 20th and West 21st Streets.

Download our January 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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