Plant of the Week: Purple milkweed

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 500 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.

Identifying High Line plants during the winter can be challenging as characteristics may have disintegrated or dried up to distortion. In the case of Asclepias purpurascens, or purple milkweed, the opposite is true. In the urban landscape thinned out by desiccating winds and compacted snow loads, few other perennials stick out as prominently as Asclepias purpurascens along 10th Avenue Square.

What looks like dry orange peels on a stick in between the tan grasses is the sturdy remainder of the plant's fruit. After releasing scores of seeds with silky parachutes to the ambient air during the fall, the fruit's shell now remains with a prominent central axis. The milkweed's winter presence even allows for it to be skipped during the annual Spring Cutback to keep some structure until the vegetation of the plant beds fills in throughout the month of April.

The easy spotting and identification of Asclepias purpurascens in meadows has been an important feature of the plant to the inhabitants of the American landscape of historical times. Children knew that on early June mornings the purple flowers would exude sugary sap like dew that crystalizes, ready to be picked by small, dexterous hands. One may assume that candy in the open prairie is a real treat.

Plant Asclepias purpurascens in dry to medium moisture with full sun or part shade.

10th Avenue Square and Overlook

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.

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