Plant of the Week: Threadleaf Bluestar

Photo by Friends of the High LineAmsonia hubrichtii, the threadleaf bluestar, grows throughout the High Line.

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 one of our gardeners’ current favorites with you.

On bright days with (or without) a snowy backdrop, the threadleaf bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii) sticks out among the plants in the High Line's winter landscape.

Light gray patches cover the stems and seed pods of the dormant plant in an almost jaguar-like pattern, as if someone had stained the plant with ink. A closer inspection provides a look at the fibrous nature of the cluster of straight stems that remain upright through ice and sleet, supporting a number of slim seed pods arranged in a loose spiral about halfway up the stem.

EnlargePhoto by Steven Severinghaus

In fact, most of the Amsonia hubrichtii specimens throughout High Line are still holding on to their fruit: finger-length pointed wraps, not unlike a thin hand-rolled cigarette. Some of these seed pods are split open and display remnants of their contents – a cinder-shaped, rust-brown solid that breaks down into individual seeds of irregular lengths and unequal tips. An intrepid gardener tasted one, and found it to be very bitter after an initial licorice flavor tease. This bitterness is a warning from from Amsonia’s poisonous relatives of the dogbane family, such as Apocynum cannabinum.

In the context of the park’s perennial plantings, Amsonia hubrichtii acts as a reliable anchor, almost like a small shrub, while other perennials such as Knautia macedonica (pincushion plant) constantly change their positions by seeding and colonizing new areas. Amsonia hubrichtiiI has become legendary for its persistence after multiple failed attempts to uproot mature specimens from the narrow tapers of the High Line’s plant beds. The turgescent, thumb-thick roots have proved more resistant than the concrete tapers they wedge into with extended growth.

Despite this plant’s resistance to being moved, we find it lovely throughout the year for its beautiful blue spring flowers, unrivaled fall color, and winter structure.

Amsonia hubrichtii grows throughout the High Line.

Download our February Bloom Guide.

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