Plant of the Week: Gibraltar bushclover

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.

Lespedeza thunbergii 'Gibraltar,' overflowing with pea-like purple flowers, is known to be a star of the autumn garden, with dusty green foliage on arching stems that spill out attractively from grasses and border plantings. After a full cutback in late winter or early spring, the Lespedeza will produce up to six feet of vertical annual growth, and as much in width, during the growing season. Blooms appear in late summer, beginning at the tips of the new growth and spreading up towards the center of the shrub as the season progresses. In full bloom, stems appear heavy with purple flowers and curve gracefully to the ground, swaying in even a light breeze.

Known commonly as Gibraltar bushclover, the Lespedeza takes its genus name from Vincente Manuel de Cespedes, the late 18th century Spanish Governor of West Florida who permitted botanist André Michaux to explore East Florida in search of undocumented plant species. The genus is native to warm temperate areas of North America and Asia and has been adopted enthusiastically as an ornamental plant due to its beauty and ease of growth. In addition, members of the Lespedeza family, like other legumes, provide notable benefits to surrounding plants: as "nitrogen fixers," nodules on the roots of this species harbor a bacteria that makes nitrogen in the air available in a soil-bound form which other plants can access.

This plant fits just as well in a more traditional backyard planting as it would in a naturalistic grassland, as it does at the High Line. Being highly drought tolerant, it is also a perfect choice for banks or mounds that suffer from dryness and erosion, as well as for rock gardens with varied heights or challenging structures. Its flowers last well into early fall, giving way finally, like other members of the bean family, to attractive black seed pods that make a beautiful contribution to dried flower arrangements.

Lespedeza self-seeds freely, so it's wise to remove seedheads to prevent unwanted spread. Water deeply and less frequently to encourage sturdy growth of the taproot. Doesn't appreciate transplanting. Can be pinched back in early July to create a dense, more compact form if desired.

Washington Grasslands & Woodland Edge

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 the High Line today!

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