Plant of the Week: Mexican Hat

Many people think the High Line that exists today is "natural", exactly like it was when it was when the rail track was abandoned in the 1980's. In fact, almost every bit of the High Line was planted according to our master plan. However, the design is not set in stone. Piet Oudolf wants his creation to evolve over time. Since all of the plants are perennial, they will increase in size over the years and the trees will get taller. Some plants become too aggressive and take over an area and others do not thrive in the conditions found on the High Line—hot, muggy summers and cold winters – coupled with high winds that blow off the Hudson River year round. As the neighborhood changes, it affects the microclimates in the park, creating warmer and cooler areas as buildings rise and fall. To account for these changes, our plant palette slowly changes to find the best plant for each location.

Some plants, like sneezeweed ( Helenium sp.), never thrived in the conditions in the park. After several species and cultivars had failed, gardener Rachel Hokanson researched replacement plants with similar color and structure. After consultation with Piet, a new addition was added this year-- the Mexican hat plant (Ratibida columnifera forma pulcherrima 'Red Midget'). So far it is thriving in our Chelsea Grasslands, a garden inspired by the American prairie.

Photo by Ayinde Listhrop

Mexican hat is an herbaceous perennial in the aster family native to the Great Plains ranging from Mexico to Canada. It gets its name due to the shape of the flower, which some people felt resembled a sombrero. The flower itself has lovely reflexed burgundy petals with yellow tips. The plant can grow 1-2 feet tall, with feathery and deeply cleft leaves. It's often found along railways, which makes it a natural for the High Line.

Mexican hat has a variety of traditional uses. For example, indigenous peoples boiled the leaves to make a remedy for snakebites and poison ivy. It tolerates drought, although flowering can be extended by giving it more water during the summer. The species prefers well-drained soil. It is a favorite of pollinators and attracts butterflies, with long lasting blooms running from June through September. The seeds also provide forage for numerous bird species. It is frequently used in restoration projects, since the plants can provide habitat for birds and spring browsing for big game animals.

Photo by Ayinde Listhrop

Mexican hat has no major insect or disease issues and is easy to grow from seed. Fall sowing is recommended to allow the seeds to naturally cold stratify. It likes full sun and can tolerate poor soil. Possible companion plants include western wheatgrass, common gaillardia and purple prairie clover.

In the Chelsea Grasslands, between 19th and 20th streets.

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.

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