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.
Fothergilla gardenii, the dwarf fothergilla or dwarf witch-alder, takes its name from Dr. John Fothergill, whose patronage made possible William Bartram's botanical studies of the North American Southeast in the late 18th century. Though it's tricky to propagate and grows slowly as a young plant, the fothergilla, once established, is a low-maintenance and compact shrub with a stunning autumnal color.
A remarkably showy native plant, it grows wild across the Southeast, preferring shrub-bogs and wet pine savannas with peaty, acidic soil. Its white, honey-scented flowers appear before the leaves and begin as small, rabbit-tail puffs, extending into graceful bottlebrush blooms later in the spring. Their interesting shape is due in part to their lack of petals - fothergilla flowers are composed solely of stamens. Keep an eye out for giddy honey bees, butterflies, and other native insects, who look forward to the fothergilla each year as a sugary treat and nectar source. Birds use its blue-green foliage as much-needed cover.
The fothergilla shares vibrant fall color with its cousin, the witch hazel, often displaying a stunning range of warm and cool colors simultaneously. Its bark and leaves are astringent and tonic, and have been used to relieve sore throats and muscles.
Planting tip: Spreads by suckers, which can be separated and replanted. Well-draining soil, while acidic, is often recommended, although larger fothergilla have been shown to succeed in poorly-draining, silty soil because of their boggy origins. Brightness of fall color increases with sun exposure.
WHERE TO SEE THIS PLANT
On the High Line between 20th and 22nd Streets, and at the 10th Avenue Square between 17th and 18th Streets.
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 the High Line today!