Plant of the Week: Wild Quinine

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.

From a distance, Parthenium integrifolium, or wild quinine, resembles a cluster of small pearls atop a large-leaved, grey-green stalk. Up close, you'll see a 3-inch wide flowerhead not unlike a head of cauliflower, and find an aromatic rosette of sandpapery basal leaves. Occurring in some of the High Line's most scenic swaths of plantings, Parthenium blooms throughout the summer and into the warmer autumn months, and is a great complement to brightly colored flowers and grasses alike. Its blooms make a long-lasting addition to a bouquet, and in the fall, its seed heads provide great seasonal interest, resembling multicolored peppercorns.

Parthenium grows naturally in mesic black soil prairies, sand prairies, and open woods, preferring full sun to part shade. It's a common sight in the United States along roadsides and in abandoned lots, blended with milkweed and other breezy natives. Thanks to its thick taproot, it can tolerate drought conditions. Its rhizomatous spreading habit creates a naturalistic growth pattern especially when it weaves among grasses and plants of different heights. As it's an abundant nectar producer, it attracts a wide variety of pollinators, but its bitter-tasting leaves discourage rabbits and deer and so are ideal for a pesticide-free garden.

Like many other members of the Asteraceae family, Parthenium, also known as feverfew, has a variety of medicinal properties. The Catawba tribes in the southeastern United States would mash together the leaves, which contain tannins, and apply as a poultice to treat burns. Tea from the boiled roots were used to relieve dysentery, and ashes of burnt leaves were massaged into the sore backs of horses.

PLANTING TIP: Parthenium can be propagated by spreading seed in fall or early winter, after treating with 4 – 6 weeks of cold, moist stratification. A simpler method would be to divide the rhizomes and place as desired. Soil should be well-drained. Established plants are hardy and resilient with an aggressive spreading habit.

WHERE TO SEE THIS PLANT: Hudson River Overlook, 10th Avenue Square, Chelsea Grasslands

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!

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