Plant of the Week: Heath Aster

Photo by Stephanie Wilkins

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.

Heath aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides) has proven to be one of the most tenacious plants growing on the High Line. It is the epitome of a weedy wildflower, with a shrubby growth habit and hundreds of tiny white flowers with yellow centers which, of course, turn into hundreds of seeds. Heath aster has always grown along the stretch of the High Line that is now the Interim Walkway, and its seeds have always managed to migrate into other parts of the park. It’s hard to say how many vagrant seedlings gardeners have ripped out of the planting beds of the High Line since the park opened in 2009. Last year, gardeners finally decided to just let it grow. After all, heath aster is a New York native and fits right in with the High Line’s naturalistic planting design. Symphyotrichum ericoides is now cultivated on the High Line at the Northern Spur Preserve between West 15th and West 16th Streets, and in the Wildflower Field between West 27th and West 29th Streets. Of course, it is also still thriving along the Interim Walkway – which runs from West 30th (at 11th Avenue) to West 34th Street in the Rail Yards – where it needs no cultivation at all.

The tribe of plants that we commonly call asters contains more than 2,800 species, and walking on the High Line in November, one might believe that all 2,800 are growing there right now. There are in fact lots of asters planted very purposefully along the High Line, and most are in full bloom right now. Twilight asters and eastern showy asters grow among the other perennials in the Crossroads at the Rail Yards at 30th Street and 10th Avenue, not too far from the wild heath aster. The Wildflower Field is a veritable riot of Bluebird smooth asters, skyblue asters, spreading asters and white upland asters. Native Lady in Black calico asters and Short’s asters, among others, are planted on the Northern Spur Preserve. The stately Jindai tatarian aster grows along the Diller – von Furstenberg Sundeck between West 14th and West 15th Streets and south to Little West 12th Street, and the rambunctious Raydon’s Favorite aromatic asters grow all along the High Line from Gansevoort Street to West 20th Street. See all the asters currently blooming on the November bloom list.

WHERE TO SEE THIS PLANT

Symphyotrichum ericoides, or heath aster, can be found blooming on the Northern Spur Preserve between West 15th and West 16th Streets, in the Wildflower Field between West 27th and West 29th Streets, and in all its wild glory along the Interim Walkway from 30th Street at 11th Avenue to 34th Street.

Download our November bloom list.

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 – become a member of Friends of the High Line today!

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