Plant of the Week: Rattlesnake Master

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.

Eryngium yuccifolium is an unusual-looking plant in great abundance on the High Line, smelling subtly of honey and sporting flowerheads like pale green baubles on branching stems. When in bloom, many tiny, five-petaled flowers open and, seen from a distance, the overall color of the flowerhead lightens. Yucca, whose sword-like leaves its foliage resembles, gives eryngium its epithet; meanwhile, its composite flower structure resembles that of a thistle, and might mislead even a seasoned naturalist to think it a member of the aster family. Its relatives, however, are the apiaceae, carrots, and parsley.

Eryngium is a native plant to the North American prairies, occurring also in open, rocky woods and glades throughout the Midwest and into Texas and Florida. It seeds easily but decreases when overgrazed; its presence in prairies has declined with the increasing presence of cattle and other large herbivores, as well as with a decrease in prairie fires, which keep competing woody species in check. A great asset to prairie restoration projects, it provides sanctuary and nourishment for wildlife and so encourages biodiversity. Wasps, in particular, love its nectar. Eryngium makes a beautiful structural addition to borders and native flora gardens, blooming from June through September. Its attractive seedheads provide lasting shape to a winter garden and unique shapes for cut flower arrangements.

Its common name, Rattlesnake master, originates in the believed use of its roots by Native American tribes as an antidote for rattlesnake venom. Its fibrous leaves were harvested by Native American peoples to make cordage and shoes; a pair of these shoes found in a Missouri cave was dated, incredibly, to around 6000 BC.

Prefers full sun. Very drought-tolerant, but will not tolerate poor drainage. Soil too rich in nitrogen should be avoided, especially during establishment year. Divide and transplant in spring or fall; plant un-stratified seed before a cold dormancy period, from November to March.

Washington Grasslands & Woodland Edge
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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