Plant of the Week: Indian Physic

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.
Porteranthus stipulatus is a native perennial wildflower that can be found in New York and south in Texas. It is very similar to Porteranthus trifoliatus in appearance but to distinguish between them, we examine the leaf shape. Porteranthus trifoliatus has unlobed leaves and narrow untoothed stipules that drop off before inflourescence occurs. The flowers on Porteranthus stipulatus are also smaller.

In spring, leafy reddish stems emerge from shallow branched rhizomes. The distinctive white five-petal flowers appear from a tubular calyx that is reddish-green before anthesis and bloom in late May into June. It is a subtle and delicate looking flower that catches the wind quite beautifully. It has an upright habit and grows 2 to 3 feet wide and is the same in height in ideal growing conditions.

Porteranthus stipulatus has fall and winter interest with the leaves turning reddish to golden brown in fall, and a very interesting seed head sitting on persistent reddish stems offering interest in winter.

Porteranthus stipulatus is a great plant for pollinators with bees, butterflies, and skippers attracted to the nectar. As the common name 'Indian Physic' suggests, the roots were used by Native Americans medicinally as an emetic.

Photo by Ayinde Listhrop.

Often called by another name, Gillenia, both names of Indian Physic are considered correct. The name Gillenia was chosen by German botanist, Conrad Moench, and honors a fellow German botanist who was also a physician, Arnold Gillenius. In current usage, both names are seen but Porteranthus is more often found in botanical references.


Porteranthus stipulatus enjoys the acid soil of woodlands and some dappled shade, but will perform quite well in a lot of different soil and light conditions and is tolerant of adverse drought conditions.


Diller-von Furstenberg Sundeck & Water Feature between West 14th and West 15th Streets and Northern Spur Preserve at West 16th Street.

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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