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Photo by Ayinde Listhrop

Plant of the Week: Wild petunia

By Guilherme Goncalves | July 18, 2016

This is the season for tall and showy perennials like compass plant, Culver`s root and coneflower, but it’s the much shorter wild petunia that draws my attention every day as I walk up north from Gansevoort to the lawn at 23rd Street. Seen at the many locations along the High Line, wild petunias are a recurrent theme in some of our gardens.

Although it may look like it, Ruellia humilis -commonly wild petunia—is not actually a petunia. It’s actually a member of the Acanthus family, Acanthaceae, and is native to our region, whereas petunias are non-natives in the tomato family. The genus Ruellia is named after Jean Ruel, a French physician and herbalist, who wrote a three-volume tome describing, among other botanical attributes, the taste and smell of a lot of plants; humilis means low-growing.

Wild petunia grows up to two feet high, producing light lavender flowers throughout the summer. While full sun is ideal, some shade is not a problem.


A very reliable ground cover, it seeds very easily and grows everywhere. Since this may present a problem for some gardens, be sure to be on the lookout for seedlings that may pop up as far as 10 feet away from the plant.


  • Washington Grasslands at W 13th Street
  • Hudson River Overlook at W 14th Street
  • 10th Avenue Square at W 17th 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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