Plant of the Week: Juniperus virginiana

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.

Visible across fields and roadsides of the Eastern United States, Juniperus virginiana is a regal presence with tall stature and broadly conical form. If left undisturbed, it can live for hundreds of years providing centuries of nutrients and shelter for wildlife. On the High Line, we have the beautiful 'Emerald Sentinel™' cultivar, which stuns every fall with branches full of cobalt cones, resembling berries. Though it goes by the common name Eastern red cedar, it has no actual botanical relationship to the cedar family; its relatives are the cypresses, known for their cone-bearing branches and attractive peeling bark.

If you see brilliant blue cones on a juniper, it means that you're looking at a female tree. These trees are dioecious, meaning that both sexes need to be present in a cultivated area for the females to produce cones. In the wild, they tend to grow in groups, tolerating drought and poor, rocky soils, while avoiding soggy locations. The cedar waxwing has quite a taste for the blue cones, and frequently appears on the High Line to feed during the fall and winter. The Eastern red cedar provides key resources for many kinds of mammals and birds, from food to nesting cover in branches and on the ground.

People notoriously enjoy the fruits of this tree as well; junipers are known among gin-lovers as the source of their favorite liquor. Gin itself took its name from the French word for the juniper, le genévrier. Despite the vast market for gin around the world, juniper berries are still wild-picked by independent workers across Europe and sold via distributors to gin companies. Both the fruits and young branches of the Eastern red cedar are aromatic, and its oils have astringent properties. Its fragrant, reddish wood has long been prized for its close-grained texture and resistance to rot, and is used for furniture, fences, and crafting. The Eastern red cedar's cones are especially eye-catching for being a highly saturated true-blue, a color not often found occurring naturally in plants.

Requires little to no pruning. Excellent choice for tricky locations, due to its naturally conical form, and ideal for border plantings with plenty of wildlife draw.

Chelsea Thicket
23rd St. Lawn & Seating Steps

Photos by Ayinde Listhrop.

With the winter season nippily approaching, adopting this High Line favorite for yourself or as a gift to a loved one is perfect for the green thumb enthusiast. Each donation helps the High Line maintain its splendor and vibrancy.

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.

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