As we prepare for the inevitable arrival of winter, my thoughts settle on the birds in the park and their plans for the change of season. Although many trees lose their leaves and herbaceous perennials retreat underground, local birds manage to find resources throughout the harsh season. Juniperus virginiana, an evergreen native to eastern North America, provides a consistent source of food and shelter to numerous birds throughout the year. This tree is very recognizable and visitors most likely know it as eastern red cedar (a misleading name, as it is a member of the Juniper family).
The dense thickets of evergreen boughs provide welcome shelter to birds and small mammals. Many birds use the branches to nest or roost, such as sparrows, robins, mockingbirds, juncos, and warblers. The branches even grow low on the trunk, at times brushing the ground, providing a protective habitat to small mammals such as mice. While the foliage is not the first choice of food for any animal, it is an emergency source of nutrition for many wildlife species.
More commonly consumed are the small blue berries of the eastern red cedar. These familiar berries are not actually berries at all, but rather modified cones (another common inaccuracy about this recognizable tree). The berries persist through winter and early spring, when other food is scarce. This provides a much-needed nutritional boost to wintering bird populations.
Our resident naturalist and park gardener, Maryanne Stubbs, shared a special anecdote about our junipers:
"Some migrating birds, such as cedar waxwings, travel in flocks of various sizes. One autumn day two years ago, some gardeners and park visitors had the pleasure of watching a band of about a dozen handsome cedar waxwings move through the Chelsea Thicket feeding on juniper berries. The berries are a good source of carbohydrates and fat, giving the waxwings good nourishment for their journey ahead. They didn't stay long, but they were a stunning sight to behold."
Eastern red cedars are adaptable and tolerant of drought, temperature extremes, and poor rocky soils. However, a specimen should not be planted in a wet or soggy location. It is an excellent plant to attract and also provide for wildlife. There are many cultivars available; our cultivar of choice is Juniperus virginiana 'Corcorcor,' or Emerald Sentinel ™ eastern red cedar.
WHERE TO FIND THIS PLANT:
The Chelsea Thicket between West 20th and West 22nd Streets, West 23rd Street Seating Steps, the Meadow Walk between West 23rd and West 25th Streets, and the Radial Plantings at West 30th 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.
TD Bank is the Presenting Green Sponsor of the High Line.