Plant of the Week: Horsetail

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

Along the southern end of the High Line's bog is a striking stand of green stalks accented with black rings known as Equisetum hyemale, commonly called horsetail. Often mistaken for bamboo, this North American native catches the attention of many visitors to the park for its unique coloring and architectural stance. The leaves, barely recognizable as such, are small, deep grey, toothed whorls that circle each joint in the stem. These green stems do the work of photosynthesis while a very high silica content provides the sturdy structure of these hollow stalks as well as deters grazing. It is evergreen in many areas but dies back each winter here on the High Line.

Photo by Ayinde Listhrop

Another common name, scouring rush, refers to its historical use as a tool for cleaning and polishing pots. However, despite its resemblance to rushes with hollow stems and a preference for water-logged soils, it produces neither flowers nor seeds. It reproduces by spores much like ferns. The challenge in categorizing this plant is due to its unique moment in the development of plants. Equisetum hyemale is one of just 15 surviving species within Equisetophyta, a class of early vascular plants dating back over 350 million years. The particular species we have on the High Line is relatively youthful at only about 65 million years old. Collectively, these 15 species have native ranges covering most biomes. Their ability to spread through rhizomes in the soil have maintained their strong foothold wherever they have been established.

Among its many admirers here at the High Line was Oliver Sacks who shared his experience of our horsetail in a piece for The New Yorker in August, 2011.

Photo by Ayinde Listhrop

PLANTING TIP:

If you are looking to incorporate the unique elegance and structure of Equisetum hyemale into your own garden, consider growing it in a pot where the rhizomes will remain contained and it can be flooded without concern for neighboring plants or the overall health of the garden soil.

WHERE TO FIND THIS PLANT:

On the High Line, you'll find Equisetum hyemale growing at the southern end of our bog located between the upper and lower sundecks.

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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