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.
Though they cast welcomed shade and create an intimate gathering space at the High Line's 10th Avenue Square, it can be easy to overlook the finer details of Acer triflorum, or Three-flowered maple. A species rarely occurring in cultivation, this slow-growing maple is native to the hills of northeastern China and Korea, and boasts an attractive exfoliating bark that resembles that of its cousin, the famous Paperbark maple. Its yellow flowers, grouped in clusters of three, give it its epithet, while its leaves are divided into a trio of serrated leaflets. The oldest specimen in cultivation in the United States can be seen at the Arnold Arboretum. And still, we are proud to have 12 of our own on the High Line, and work hard to keep them healthy.
When plant explorer Ernest H. Wilson brought back specimens of Acer triflorum from the Korean Peninsula in October of 1917, he asked that all seeds be planted immediately, as he felt this species was his finest discovery from that region. It's easy to see why Wilson would have prized this find so highly. Its decorative bark exfoliates in strips the color of caramel and pearly gray, revealing toasty brown inner bark. Exfoliation may in fact help the tree to rid itself of certain pests, like scale and aphids. A slow grower, it can function as a large shrub for the first few years of its life, and develop an elegant oval growth habit as it matures.
One of its most appealing attributes is its ability to develop spectacular fall color even in shade. Across the climate zones of the East Coast, Acer triflorum presents foliage in yellow, red, and even purple. And on the High Line, we tend to see a palette of gold and orange. Our unique planting environment impacts the colors that the trees tend to show, as many aspects of the High Line differ from those of wild habitats. Root depth, temperature fluctuations both above and below the trees, and drainage all impact the health and showiness of the tree's foliage, and our gardeners work hard to manage these complex environmental factors to ensure the best life possible for all of our tree species.
May be difficult to find in nurseries. Not ideal for a street tree as it doesn't do well in compacted, alkaline soil. Avoid pruning in early spring as maples 'bleed' a large quantity of sap during this season.
WHERE TO SEE THIS PLANT
10th Avenue Square
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!
Photo by Mat McDermott