Plant of the Week: Twinleaf

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.

One of my favorite things about Spring Cutback, besides working with our amazing volunteers, is slowly discovering the delicate beauty of the High Line's bulbs and spring ephemerals. Each cut of the pruner may reveal a Crocus in full bloom or a tiny ephemeral emerging from the soil. One such ephemeral that is blooming for the first time on the High Line is Jeffersonia diphylla also known as twinleaf.

Jeffersonia diphylla blooms in early April, right around the birthday of its namesake, Thomas Jefferson. The white cup-shaped flowers bloom singly atop rigid leafless stalks to 8" tall. The petals of this flower are extremely fragile and often drop at the first gust of wind or a light shower, emphasizing its ephemeral qualities. Fortunately, the flowers are quickly replaced by an attractive green, pear-shaped seedpod that accompanies the 12-18" tall, 4-6" double-lobed leaves.

Jeffersonia diphylla and many other spring ephemerals disperse their seeds with the help of ants in a process called myrmecochory. The seeds bear fatty appendages called eliasomes, which are a food source for young ants. Once the eliasomes are consumed, the seeds are thrown into a pile that stimulates germination. The seeds are usually carried only six feet from the parent plant, making the plant dispersal quite local. Thus, habitat fragmentation is a major threat to the survival of these ephemerals. Should you be fortunate enough to encounter Jeffersonia diphylla in the wild, please do not disturb as it is threatened in the state of New York.

One of the traditional common names for Jeffersonia diphylla is rheumatism root, in reference to the plants many medicinal uses. The roots of the plant contain berberine, a known anti-tumor alkaloid. The whole plant was used in early American medicine as an antispasmodic, diuretic, emetic, expectorant, and general tonic.

Why not celebrate Jefferson's birthday with a visit to the High Line to see the rare beauty attributed to him?


Although the blooms of Jeffersonia diphylla may only last a few days, it is well worth growing for its unique bi-lobed foliage which makes a beautiful groundcover for a shaded site. It grows well with other early flowers such as Dicentra cucullaria, Podophyllum peltatum and Delphinium tricorne. It is best grown in moist, humusy, well-drained, limestone soils in part shade. Plants are best situated under large deciduous trees where they will receive part sun in the spring and are well shaded in summer. This is a slow growing plant with an extensive root system and resents disturbance.


Gansevoort Woodland

Photos by Ayinde Listhrop.

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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