Plant of the Week: Graceful Cattail

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.

The bog environment on the High Line was designed to reference pockets of the original structure with poor drainage that created wetland-like conditions. On the Sundeck this week, you'll spot the first blooms of the graceful cattail, or Typha laxmannii, waving in the breeze off the Hudson. Preferring a submerged base, our typha are kept hydrated by frequent hand watering as well as a plugged drainage system, which mimics the natural stopping-up of drains that occurred on the High Line during its years of disuse.

Native to marshlands and wetlands in Europe and Asia, Typha spreads by rhizomes and is an aggressive presence that forms dense colonies in shallow water. Its leaves are mostly basal and shoot upward to surpass the height of the flower stalks, which each support one male and one female inflorescence. Yellowish male (staminate) flowers sit above the greenish female (pistillate) ones, separated by an inch or two of smooth, round stalk. After blooming in summer, male flowers disperse quickly and leave a naked stalk tip; pollinated female flowers swell into a brown fruiting spike that can reach up to four inches in length. In the wild, stands of cattails serve as important and sturdy shelter for wildlife in delicate marshy ecosystems.

Perhaps unexpectedly, every part of the cattail is edible. Cattails can be boiled into a sweet syrup, dried and ground into a powder to be used as a thickener in soups and flours, eaten as an alternative to asparagus, or harvested in shoot form and used in salads. Historically, the stems and leaves were used by many cultures in basket weaving, and the down was used as stuffing for pillows and mattresses, or as lining in coats and shoes. Symbolically, the cattail was often associated with rain, and used ceremonially to end droughts and protect against lightning.

WHERE TO SEE THIS PLANT: Diller von Furstenberg Sundeck & Water Feature

PLANTING TIPS: Plant in up to 18 inches of well-hydrated soil or in shallow water. Spreads aggressively by rhizomes and will form a nearly complete monoculture in boggy areas and ought to be contained in smaller spaces. Will succeed in sun or part shade. To propagate, divide mature plants in the spring.

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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