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Photo by Ayinde Listhrop

Plant of the Week: Spiked gayfeather

By Rachel Hokanson | July 8, 2016

Summer is hitting its stride in our High Line gardens. I love this time of year in my zone, the Chelsea Grasslands, because of the bold colors, overflowing planting beds, and abundance of pollinators. One striking perennial in the grasslands is Liatris spicata, or spiked gayfeather. “Spicata” means “spiked” and refers to the shape of the inflorescence. The shape is often whimsically described as a magic wand. Narrow leaves alternate their way up the stem- often so thin they appear feathery (hence the common name, “spiked gayfeather”). Liatris spicata grows in erect clumps, 3-6 feet tall. The bright purple flowerheads (Liatris is a member of the Asteraceae family, known for its composite flowers) are true showstoppers- to us and the bees. Fun fact- the flowerheads open from top down, an uncommon occurrence in the botanical world.

The native range of Liatris spicata is the eastern United States- New Jersey to Michigan and Illinois, south to Florida and Louisiana. It is unique among its genus in that it prefers moisture- it can be found in the wild along marsh edges, in moist wood openings, and mesic prairies. There are around 40 different species in the Liatris genus, but Liatris spicata is one of few easily found in the nursery trade. It is best used in meadow plantings or cottage gardens- any design similar to the naturalistic design of the High Line. It adds vertical depth and strong color to the garden and attracts a multitude of native pollinators. Another plus- Liatris spicata provides gorgeous cut flowers for an arrangement. The flower-covered stems dry out beautifully as well. You can keep these around all year (I speak from experience!).



Liatris spicata is known for being easy to grow. Make sure to plant in full sun to get full shape and color. While known for its moisture tolerance, I find Liatris spicata does just fine with regular garden watering.


Washington Grassland and Woodland Edge and the Chelsea Grasslands around 18th street

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. Every week we share one of our gardeners’ current favorites with you.

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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