Plant of the Week: Prairie smoke

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.

Photo by Ayinde Listhrop.

As we head into the second half of May, dogwoods are in full bloom and Amsonia and Salvia are adding lively colors to the High Line. You may also spot a little plant, Geum triflorum, blooming among taller plants, demanding your attention.

Geum triflorum is an herbaceous perennial native to the North American prairie that typically grows to 16" tall. Its fern-like leaves turn deep red in fall and sometimes stay evergreen. In late spring, the nodding, reddish pink to purple bell-shaped flowers shyly emerge from the center of the rosette. The bloom lasts about one to two months.

The most distinguishing feature of Geum triflorum is its seeds. After bloom, the plant forms a dense cluster of seeds that has long, feathery tails and resembles a plume or feather duster. In a prairie, the seeds give an appearance of mauve colored smoke rising from the ground, hence the common name, prairie smoke.

Photo by Ayinde Listhrop.

As you may know, very little of the original North American prairie exists today. Fortunately, Geum triflorum often grows on steep hills and rocky areas in the dry prairie. Such places are not suitable for agricultural or business development and the prairie retains much of its natural environment. Even so, USDA lists Geum triflorum as threatened here in New York. The little bloom of Geum triflorum reminds us of the beauty of prairies covered with wild flowers and calls for our effort to conserve its habitat and the natural landscape.


Plant Geum triflorum in dry, well-drained soils in full sun. Poorly drained soil will cause root rot in wet winter. Choose a location away from taller and more aggressive plants, as Geum triflorum doesn't tolerate such competition well. It prefers cool northern climates and needs to be well-watered during hot summer weather. Once established, Geum triflorum spreads by rhizomes and can form an interesting ground cover. USDA zone 3 to 7.


Wildflower Field and Radial Plantings between West 27th and West 30th Streets

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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