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Partial re-opening: Crews have cleared the High Line's paths, and the park is open to the public between 16th and 30th Streets. We are working to open the remainder of the park as soon as possible. Please check back or follow @highlinenyc on Twitter for updates.

Plant of the Week: Giant pussy willow

January usually marks the true beginning of winter weather here in the city. With the temperature starting to hover around freezing and lately being quite below that, it is tempting to spend more time inside planning for the next season. However, the intrepid gardener venturing through the frigid park will be rewarded with small hints of spring. One such sight is the young furry catkins bursting from the crimson buds on the giant pussy willow.

Giant pussy willow, also known as Salix chaenomeloides, is characterized by an upright, slightly arching habit. It can grow up to 20 feet tall, but responds well to pruning. The large green leaves are silky underneath and emerge after the flowers. The floral buds begin to color in August and remain bright red until they break in late winter. The buds usually burst on the top side of the stem where it appears that the catkins are pushing through the scale. These large furry catkins inspired the common name pussy willow because of their resemblance to cats' paws.

Although all of these features are highly ornamental, they do not correlate with any of the traits attributed to Salix chaenomeloides in the Flora of China. In fact, in 2015 it was discovered that this plant is actually a hybrid of Salix gracilistyla and Salix caprea. These findings, published in the April 2016 edition of HortScience, conclude that the plant was introduced to the United States under an incorrect name. The mistaken labeling of plants can occasionally occur in nurseries and emphasizes the need for constant plant research and education in horticulture. A thorough understanding of the plants we work with helps us implement the planting design and account for the ecological needs and services of the plant.

Willow's fast growth rate and fibrous roots provides numerous ecological services including phytoremediation, wastewater management, streambank stabilization, soil erosion control, and biofuel. Also, their early blooming catkins provide much needed nectar for bees when few other insect-pollinated plants are flowering. Historically, willow bark was used to treat pain since it contains salicin, a chemical similar to aspirin. Finally, willow's pliable wood makes it an important source for construction and manufacturing. It has been used to make furniture, baskets, rope, string, and paper.

PLANTING TIP:

Giant pussy willow will grow well in full sun with sandy, average, or moist soil. It is deer resistant and hardy to zone 4.

WHERE TO FIND THIS PLANT:

The Chelsea Thicket between 20th and 22nd streets.

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. Every week we share one of our gardeners' current favorites with you.

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.


TD Bank is the Presenting Green Sponsor of the High Line.

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