Plant of the Week: Purple prairie clover

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 500 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.

Photo by Ayinde Listhrop.

At several locations on the High Line, you can see a bushy wildflower with cone-like flower heads on wiry stems reaching up from one to three feet in height. The plant has rings of vibrantly colorful rose-purple bloom gradually moving upward as the season progresses.

Known by the common name purple prairie clover, Dalea purpurea is commonly found in glades, rocky open woods and prairies throughout the United States. As a native to central North America, Dalea purpurea plays an integral part in Great Plains grassland communities. It's a great food source for many kinds of insects that feed on its nectar, pollen, leaves and seeds. Mammalian herbivores of all kinds also eat this protein-rich plant. Native Americans used the plant readily as food and medicine. Leaves were used to make tea and steeped to apply on open wounds. They enjoyed the pleasant flavor while chewing the roots and made brooms out of its stems.

Dalea purpurea is a member of legume family and has deep tap roots which make this plant drought tolerant. The large woody taproot also helps the plant adopt to conditions caused by periodic wildfires which is a natural component in grasslands ecology. Beside its tap roots, Dalea purpurea has one of the most important traits of plants in legume family: the ability to fix nitrogen in the soil. It has been frequently used in revegetation efforts to reclaim disturbed sites, prairie restorations and erosion control.

Are you looking for a plant that is tough, useful, or simply looks great? Dalea purpurea has it all.

Photo by Ayinde Listhrop.


Dalea purpurea is rather indifferent to the soil type and can be easily grown in any soil condition if the site is well-drained and in full sun. It may be slow to develop, but will also self-seed in optimum growing conditions. Dividing the plant is difficult due to its deep tap root so that propagation by seed is recommended. USDA zone 3 to 8

Dalea purpurea from Friends of the High Line on Vimeo.


Washington Grasslands & Woodland Edge (between Little West 12th and West 13th Streets)

Chelsea Grasslands (between West 17th and West 20th Streets)

23rd Street Lawn and Seating Steps (between West 22nd and West 23rd Streets)

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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