Carol Bove’s Celeste (2013) peeks through the Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota) at the Rail Yards- Photo by Timothy Schenck.
Carol Bove’s organic shapes and weathered metals seem to sprout from the natural landscape on the undeveloped section of the High Line at the Rail Yards like the green grasses, trees, and flowers surrounding them. For those that have seen Bove’s fantastic installation, you may have wondered about the names and types of plants around you on your tour… and so have we! Luckily, Tom Smarr, our Director of Horticulture on the High Line, walked us through the rich variety of flora at the rail yards, giving us a crash course about the rich assortment of plants and trees occupying the landscape.
Bove’s A Glyph (2013) surrounded by plants, trees and shrubs- Photo by Timothy Schenck.
Seed heads of a Wild Aster- Photo by Steven Severinghaus.
One of the most unique characteristics of the rail yards is its local palette of vegetation, all of which has self-seeded between the historic tracks. Thus, the flora at the Rail Yards provides us with a snapshot of the natural New York City landscape in an un-manicured state. So, how do we go about dissecting this sea of green? Tom explained that the rail yards host a variety of plants that can be generally divided into four categories: opportunistic, invasive, shrubs, and trees.
A pair of Common Mullein (Verbascum Thapsus) bathed in sunlight- Photo by Steven Severinghaus.
A close-up shot of the Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota) that sprouts throughout the Rail Yards- Photo by Steven Severinghaus.
Opportunistic plants, like bayberry (Morella pensylvanica), little blue stem (Schizachyrium scoparium), butter-n-eggs (Linaria vulgaris), and the cinquefoil (Potentilla argentea) tend to have seeded from nearby areas from wind and birds as have invasive plants, like the Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculata)and the Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora). Some trees make shrub-like appearances, like the crab apple (Malus sp.) and black cherry (Prunus serotina), are also dominant at the rail yards.
Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota) flowering – Photo by Gigi Altarejos.
Plants are either annuals, like the annual blue grass (Poa annua) and morning glory (Ipomoea hederacea) which have a one-year lifespan, bi-annual like Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) and Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) that have a two year lifespan, or perennials, like common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and tall boneset (Eupatorium altissimum) which remain year-round but only flower or grow for a portion of every year, after which the tops die down and the roots go dormant for the winter.
The dense vegetation at the entrance to the Rail Yards- Photo by Juan Valentin.
The difference in soil level of the entrance area, which is much deeper, and the main line, which is relatively shallow, characterizes the types of plants in each respective area. The deeper soil in the entrance-way is hospitable for larger trees, like the apple tree shown above, and a lush arrangement of plants, whereas the main line is home to grasses, flowers, and tree seedlings that can subsist without much root soil.
The young shoot of Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) – Photo by Steven Severinghaus.
Like a community, the plants have adapted to their environment and exist in a symbiotic relationship to the tracks – and now to Bove’s sculptures as well. The railroad tracks and sculptures offer a critical means of shelter from the elements for the seeds, which then grow and protect other seeds themselves. The sculptures, rail tracks, and plants make up a system that works together; in a poetic sense, the landscape at the rail yards shows that if you leave land alone it will always return to this balance of self-subsistence.
The rounded metal of Bove’s Prudence (2013) acts like a motherly arm, sheltering plants from the elements- Photo by Gigi Altarejos.
Even in the developed sections of the High Line, our remarkable horticulture and gardening teams pay tribute to this concept of self-subsistence and succession, allowing plants to move around and seed in naturally while keeping invasive species at bay. The developed and undeveloped portions of the High Line complement each other, offering two unique horticultural experiences that both respond to the natural environment of New York.
- Kat Widing*
Our senior gardener, horticulture volunteer and records coordinator Andi Pettis and a Cherry Tree (Prunus serotina) at the Rail Yards – Photo courtesy of Friends of the High Line.
*Many Thanks to Tom Smarr and his team of talented horticulturists and gardeners for their help and expertise in creating this feature.