Plant of the Week: Grape Hyacinth

It's been a long, cold, lonely winter on the High Line that at times seemed never ending. The cold weather continued through most of our spring cutback, including a winter storm that covered all of our plants in six inches of solid ice. But the ice slowly melted, and after we managed to dig the plants out, they emerged unharmed. Now the weather is warmer, and signs of spring are everywhere. Bulbs are coming up in the park, perennials are shaking off their winter slumber, and trees are leafing out. One sure sign of spring is the arrival of Muscari, or Grape Hyacinth throughout the park. The High Line features two species of grape hyacinth—Muscari neglectum and Muscari armeniacum 'Valerie Finnis'.

Photo by Ayinde Listhrop.

Grape hyacinth is the name given to a group of perennial bulbs that flower in early spring. As of 2011, there are 42 recognized species. The flowers grow on a stalk and are said to resemble small bunches of grapes. Muscari are originally from southeastern Europe, but have naturalized in the Eastern United States. Its origin gives one species its name—Muscari armeniacum was originally found in Armenia. The specific cultivar we have is called 'Valerie Finnis' (named after a famed British gardener). This species is known for its lovely sky-blue color, which is not to be missed on the High Line in April. It grows in clumps, and the flower spikes are generally around 8" tall. It forms excellent ground cover around trees and shrubs, which is one way you'll see it on the High Line.

Photo by Ayinde Listhrop.

Our other species of grape hyacinth is Muscari neglectum, or common grape hyacinth—this species is larger and has dark purple flowers. It grows to around a foot tall and is found in many areas of the High Line. In older literature, Muscari armeniacum was used interchangeably for both, even though they are distinct species. Visitors to the High Line should have no problem telling them apart.

Photo by Ayinde Listhrop.

Grape hyacinth have long been favorite garden plants—the name Muscari is Turkish and dates back to at least 1583. Some have a pleasant sweet odor. They can be blended well with other spring bulbs for early season color—try combining with narcissus or tulips. They may bloom for three weeks or more, making them long lasting for a bulb.

Photo by Ayinde Listhrop

Grape hyacinth are easy to grow in well drained-soil, and thrive in full sun and part shade. Plant about 3" deep in the fall for a burst of spring color. Once established, the leaves may remain evergreen through the winter. Muscari forms clumps and is a good spreader, so be sure to give it some room to grow.

Muscari armeniacum 'Valerie Finnis' can be found in the Chelsea Grasslands, between 17th and 19th streets. Muscari neglectum can be found in the Wildflower Field and Radial Plantings and the Rail Track Walks, between 25th street and 30th streets. Also look for them in the Washington Grasslands and Woodland Edge, between 13th and 14th streets, and near the Whitney Museum.

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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