Carol Bove’s organic shapes and weathered metals seem to sprout from the natural landscape on the undeveloped section of the High Line at the Rail Yards like the green grasses, trees, and flowers surrounding them. For those that have seen Bove’s fantastic installation, Caterpillar , you may have wondered about the names and types of plants around you on your tour, and so have we! Luckily, Tom Smarr, our Director of Horticulture on the High Line, walked us through the rich variety of flora at the rail yards, giving us a crash course about the rich assortment of plants and trees occupying the landscape.
One of the most unique characteristics of the rail yards is its local variety of vegetation, all of which has self-seeded between the historic tracks. Thus, the flora at the rail yards provides us with a snapshot of the natural New York City landscape in an un-manicured state. So, how do we go about dissecting this sea of green? Tom explained that the rail yards host a variety of plants that can be generally divided into four categories: opportunistic, invasive, shrubs, and trees.
Opportunistic plants, like bayberry (Morella pensylvanica), little blue stem (Schizachyrium scoparium), butter-n-eggs (Linaria vulgaris), and the cinquefoil (Potentilla argentea) tend to have seeded from nearby areas from wind and birds. The same is true of some invasive plants, like the oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculata) and the multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora). Some trees with shrub-like appearances, like the crab apple (Malus sp.) and black cherry (Prunus serotina), are also dominant at the rail yards.
Annuals, like the annual blue grass (Poa annua) and morning glory (Ipomoea hederacea) have a one-year lifespan. Biannuals like Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) and common mullein (Verbascum Thapsus) have a two year lifespan. And perennials, like common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and tall boneset (Eupatorium altissimum), remain year-round but only flower or grow for a portion of each year, after which the tops die down and the roots go dormant for the winter.
The differences between the soil levels of the entrance area, which is much deeper, and the main line, which is relatively shallow, characterize the types of plants in each respective area. The deeper soil in the entranceway is hospitable for larger trees – like the apple tree shown above – and a lush arrangement of plants, whereas the main line is home to grasses, flowers, and tree seedlings that can subsist without much root soil.
Like a community, the plants have adapted to their environment and exist in a symbiotic relationship to the tracks – and now to Bove’s sculptures as well. The railroad tracks and sculptures offer a critical means of shelter from the elements for the seeds, which then grow and protect other seeds themselves. The sculptures, rail tracks, and plants make up a system that works together; in a poetic sense, the landscape at the rail yards shows that if you leave land alone it will always return to this balance of self-subsistence.
Even in the developed sections of the High Line, our remarkable horticulture and gardening teams pay tribute to this concept of self-subsistence and succession, allowing plants to move around and seed in naturally while keeping invasive species at bay. The developed and undeveloped portions of the High Line complement each other, offering two unique horticultural experiences that both respond to the natural environment of New York.
Many Thanks to Director of Horticulture Tom Smarr and his team of talented horticulturists and gardeners for their help and expertise in creating this feature.