Plant of the Week: Asters

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.

This week the asters have begun to take center stage on the High Line, and to do them justice, we'll take a look at the group as a whole and at a few great species individually. Once you're on the lookout, you'll be able to spot them from a number of vantage points. While looking out over the Northern Spur Preserve, you'll see their effect from a wider angle as nebulas of purple and white stars. In other spots, like the Wildflower Field and Chelsea Grasslands, you can catch sight of the blooms up close – and if you look very carefully, you'll notice the complexity of this ostensibly simple flower. Flowers known as asters are so called for their starlike shape, and are composed of disk and ray florets, meaning that what appears as the center of the bloom is in fact made up of hundreds of tiny flowers. This is particularly apparent in the Jindai tatarian aster, whose golden center stands out brightly from its purple petals (which, to do due diligence, are actually called "involucral bracts") and who is currently stealing the show in the Washington Grasslands.

The Aster family is massive and has been fractured many times into separate or subfamilies as our understanding of its genetics has deepened. On the High Line, you can recognize the asters by their generally fine, dark green foliage, frequently woody stems, and daisy-like blooms. Asters are common in open, dry environments like meadows and woodland edges, and are well known for attracting a diverse group of pollinators and beneficial insects, making them excellent companion plantings and for use in diversifying monocultures. It is almost a guarantee that you'll find a bumblebee on an aster, with its pollen baskets swollen yellow. For morphological reasons, asters have been hugely successful as a family, and date back in the form of fossilized pollen grains to Antarctica's Late Cretaceous period. There are currently more than 23,000 recorded species of aster, dispersed all over the globe from the poles to the tropics.

Asters are notoriously difficult to tell apart, even for seasoned horticulturists, but keep an eye out for a few of these species in general as a good starting point. The Skyblue aster, Symphyotrichum oolentangiense, looks incredible on the Northern Spur at the moment, surrounded by drifts of white Symphyotrichum lateriflorum 'Lady in Black,' or the Lady in Black calico aster. In the Wildflower Field, you'll find the purple Twilight, spreading, and Bluebird smooth asters, which have subtly different flower shapes and habits. One aster you'll be seeing less of is the white Aster ericoides, an aggressive spreader that this section's gardener worked hard to remove earlier this season. Though charming, it quickly dominates a garden and ought probably to be avoided in cultivation, as many other attractive white varieties are readily available.

PLANTING TIP
Bloom in late summer and fall. Prefer partial to full sun and well-draining soil. While generally low-maintenance, some varieties may look better with staking, as they can become top-heavy; in addition, when watering, splashing the leaves ought to be avoided, as this can encourage powdery mildew. Water at the base.

WHERE TO SEE THIS PLANT
Gansevoort Woodland and Tiffany & Co. Foundation Overlook
Sundeck and Water Feature
Hudson River Overlook
Northern Spur Overlook
Chelsea Grasslands
Wildflower Field and Radial Plantings
Crossroads
Rail Track Walks
Interim Walkway

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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