A Stroll Along The High Line in NYC

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As a BYGL writer, I love to write about horticulture, nature, and all manner of critters (bugs... its really about the bugs). But there's another side to each BYGL contributor... and it was my other hobbies that brought about today's article.  For I... am a musical theater nerd.


And on my recent trip to New York to see the revival of Sweeney Todd, I got to spend some time strolling along the High Line.  A little strip of nature weaving its way through the hustle and bustle of the BIG APPLE.


view from the high line park featuring the SHACK event center
The building to the left is known as THE SHED, which has a telescoping wing to create enclosed or open venue spaces in Hudson Yards, NYC.


photo showing the marquee of the sweeney todd musical in new york
It was a fantastic show by the way.  Just stellar!



Long time BYGL writer Jim Chatfield raves about this lush secret garden in New York. This was finally my chance to see the High Line first hand. So off we went.  The High Line Park is built on an historic, elevated rail line that runs parallel to the Hudson River from Gansevoort St. near the meatpacking district and Chelsea Market, and West 30th St. and Hudson Yards. The park is roughly 20 blocks of a repurposed train overpass growing plants, trees, and displaying art for locals and tourists to enjoy.   


highline viewed from the street





The original rail line opened in 1934, but fell into disuse by the 1980s.  Threats of demolition loomed, until lobbying began to preserve it as a public space. In 2003, the Friends of the High Line held a competition to determine ideas for how the elevated train line could be repurposed with fun ideas from a roller coaster to a waterfall!  Then in 2009, the first section of the high line park was opened to the public.  Additional sections opened in 2011, 2013, and 2019.  And when we were there the first week of August, the newest section had opened connecting the High Line to Moynihan Train Hall. 



The High Line park had some lovely educational stands with brochures on the history and gardens that helped me out here.  The design is inspired by the succession landscape that grew wild and self-seeded among the rocky rite-of-way along the abandon train tracks.  Of the 500 species of plant along the route, half are native plants to the US, and roughly 150 species are native to the 5 boroughs of New York.  Heavily featured were shrubs, perennials and trees familiar to the Northeastern US and to anyone who has planted a pollinator garden in the Midwest. These plants were chosen for hardiness and sustainability, having to be planted on an untraditional and elevated plantscape! 


plants growing around train tracks of the high line park in new york city


native grasses and cone flowers lining the path of the high line park


quaking aspen in new york
Quaking Aspen was a popular tree along the path.


juniper tree standing tall against the backdrop of a skyscraper in new york city
Some sizable junipers dotted the path reflecting off the skyscrapers!



We began our walk at Hudson Yards.  Here we experienced a grassland habitat with prairie plants. Blooming were purple and white coneflowers (Echinacea spp.) and Liatris, yellow evening primrose (Oenothera biennis), Hyssop (Agastache spp), some butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) and Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum spp.).  Baptisia seed pods were forming.  I even found a small planting of our native Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia humifusa).



Notice the train tracks peeking through the grasses?



butterfly weed along with an educational sign that reads, Behold a manhattan native plant that is a hub of insect activity.


Prickly Pear Cactus is native to NE US and Ohio

Coral Honeysuckle vine crawling up a fence in front of a large skyscraper
Coral Honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens 'Major Wheeler' growing along an exist staircase off the High Line path.



honeybee nectaring on mountainmint flower


All the right plants were present but, despite the occasional bumble bee and honeybees, I did not observe a lot of insect activity on even the best of pollinator plants. For example, in Ohio, Mountain Mint is usually writhing with large wasps and tiny sweat bees, flies, moths, and honeybees. Here, I only saw a few honeybees on a sunny afternoon.  Other possible factors aside, it was a reminder that in one of the most developed and concreted places in the U.S., there is still work to do if we want to fill green spaces with green critters. 


Further down the mile, it transitions into an arboreal habitat with Staghorn (Rhus typhina) and Winged Sumac (Rhus copallinum) and Sweetbay Magnolias (Magnolia virginiana var. australis 'Green Shadow') abounding, birch trees, bottlebrush buckeye and some wonderful shady understory plants including sassafras, witch hazel, and ground covers. And everywhere, the original train tracks are peaking out from among coral bells, wild ginger, and ferns, reminding us of its original purpose and just being so darn charming.




some of the shady understory plants on the high line park look to have signs of stress or nutrient deficiency
Lower Left: Are these variegated varieties or is this a sign of nutrient deficiency? Some diagnostic work may be needed on the high line! 

Educational sign posted under Sweet Bay Magnolia trees reading, This magnolia species produces white, creamy flowers, which emit a pleasant lemony fragrance.



winged sumac is a surprising addition to the landscape, and it is a native plant



There were plenty more plants than this entomologist could ever ID, but never the less, it was a unique and beautiful park to visit, set against the backdrop of New York City. Definitely worth a visit, and a fantastic way to view the city.


For Fun


The High Line is also a space where art is integrated into the path.  This orange fellow below was photographed on a balcony overlooking the high line on our visit.  It is titled, " The Creature" by artist Danny Cole. The artist was interviewed in an art news article where he shared that his goal was surprise, joy, and having a moment to stop and smile and say, what is that?  A fitting sentiment, as I would guess many hiking through the High Line have stopped in awe and said, "WHAT IS THAT!" about a bright flower or fluttery bug that lands nearby. 



sculpture overlooking the high line by Danny Cole



And last but not least, my favorite piece of graffiti... a quick search of the web claims this is M.Chat or Monsieur Chat by graffiti artist Thoma Vuille.  This grinning mew is found all around France, but has made its way to NYC.  Just some of the artistic treats you can spot in contrast to all the nature along the High Line.



graffiti of a yellow cat with wings visible from the new york city high line