Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

It's alive! Plants grow in Tenleytown Metro station

July 11, 2011 - 09:32 AM
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A garden grows in Tenleytown. (Photo: Bryce Griffler)

Rogue plants have seemingly sprouted up in the Tenleytown Metro station. Have you spotted these? Rider Bryce Griffler caught sight of the lurking Tenleytown plants peeping up from the eerily glowing Metro grates. The sight is reminiscent of some bizarre greenhouse. He snapped the photo above (used here with his permission) and posted it to Twitter with the following thought:

There's greenery growing IN Tenleytown Metro station...I suppose that just means more oxygen? #wmata

Sure enough. Perhaps we should all breathe easier with the thought of green life invading these giant structures of metal. Are these strange weeds a one-time, transitory growth in Tenleytown?

Not so, according to other evidence I've unearthed. Here's a sign that there may be a regular Tenleytown Garden that's lasted for years.

Check out this 2009 flickr photo from user An Avatar Too Far. Again a photo shows plants cropping up all along the lighting grates of the Tenleytown Metro station.

Are there other WMATA stations where these tough sprouts have emerged? I've never seen anything like it. Metro's chief spokesman Dan Stessel is looking into the matter now. And if you have any insight into why Tenleytown and any other experiences with Metro plants, please share. I'm just sorry these plants never see any sun.

Update, July 12th: Answers have emerged! You'll run into Metro ferns such as in these photos most often at the Adams Morgan-Woodley Park, Cleveland Park, Van Ness, and yes, Tenleytown stations, according to WMATA. Metro's press office had additional sad news, however — these plants are bad and from Metro's perspective, do not belong in their subterranean structures.

The plants' growth requires water, you see. And the presence of water in a Metro station can cause many bad consequences such as corrosion and deterioration, Metro spokespeople informed me. "As we make repairs to tunnels and infrastructure, we clear out the horticulture," chief spokesperson Dan Stessel told me. The Van Ness station in particular has a lot of the maidenhair ferns these days, another spokesman said.

Another good resource would be a 2006 Washington Post story that Metro's press office uncovered on the topic. The specific Metro fern is actually endangered in several states:

The dampness- and limestone-loving ferns grow along almost the entire length of the station's 300-foot-long platform. Some appear quite healthy, sending branches and leaflets up through the metal grating that is designed to protect the fluorescent tubes. Because the ferns are on the other side of the tracks from the platform, they grow without human intervention.

The Metro's species of maidenhair fern is not catalogued in Maryland or the District, and in Virginia it is known to exist only in Wythe County far to the west. It is listed as endangered in North Carolina and threatened in Kentucky, yet it is thriving in the Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan Metro station.

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