Plant of the Week: Grace smokebush

The Grace smokebush’s purple-tinged summer foliage changes to a deep crimson in the fall. Photo by Juan Valentin

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 300 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 with you one of our gardeners’ current favorites.

The genus Continus contains two species of plants that get their common names of smokebush and smoketree from their distinctive springtime blooms, which can be noted on our profile of another High Line favorite, Young Lady smokebush. The soft billowy hairs of Continus blooms give the plants a smoke-like appearance.

This time of year, we turn our attention to Grace smokebush, Continus ‘Grace,’ a beautiful plant that is a hybrid cultivar of European smokebush, Continus coggygria, and the American smoketree, Continus obovatus. Grace smokebush is a robust plant that can grow up to 15 feet tall and is valued for its beautiful purple-tinged foliage, which changes to a deep crimson in the fall months.

EnlargeThe stumps of the Grace smokebush
following early spring hard pruning

This past spring, High Line Gardeners cut the Grace smokebush plants back to nearly the ground in what is called a “hard pruning.” While this may seem harsh to the untrained eye, hard pruning is a benefit to many bushes, making them grow back more vigorously. For the Grace smokebush plants, cutting back the old stems produces larger leaves with a more vibrant, gloss burgundy or deep purple color on the new growth. It also ensured the beautiful fall color currently on view.

On the High Line between Gansevoort and West 13th Streets, and between West 16th and West 17th Streets

Download our November Bloom Guide.

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