Palafox, or palafoxia, is a perennial flowering herb native to the Southern United States and Mexico. It’s a native plant worthy of protection for its role as a valuable nectar source to pollinators during the late summer and fall months.
Palafox is a drought-tolerant plant that adds color and texture to a prairie garden. While technically an annual, it freely reseeds itself, so it will reliably return every year.
The genus is named for Jose de Palafox y Melzi, a general for the Spanish army in the war against Napolean and his invading troops. It’s used in folk medicine to treat nausea, fever, and chills. Read on to learn how to plant, grow, and care for this useful flowering herb in your garden!
Palafox Plant Overview
Palafox is a member of the Asteraceae or daisy family. Plants in this family exist on every continent except for Antarctica. It is the largest family in the plant kingdom.
The genus Palafox encompasses 12 species. All are self-seeding herbaceous perennials. They are native only to North and Central America, where they are hardy in zones 9-11.
A layer of hair-like particles called trichomes covers the leaves and stems of palafox plants.
The form of palafox’s leaves varies by species. The leaves are ovate to lanceolate. Some are short and broad, while others are narrow and needle-like. These leaves can have a rough texture and are generally arranged alternately on the stems.
The leaves tend to be more concentrated nearer the top of the stems, with the lower stems being only sparsely scattered with leaves. The tops are coated in short trichomes.
Palafox flowers come in shades of pink, purple, and white.
Palafox produces flowers in shades of pink, purple, and white. From a distance, they look soft and fluffy. Up close, they differ between species, but all produce flowers on terminal buds. Some have one flower atop each stem, while others are in clusters of 2-4.
The flowers are very attractive to pollinators. These plants will bring butterflies and many native bees to the garden.
Some species, like small palafoxia, have flowers with small tubular florets and no ray flowers. Others have floret and ray flowers, as seen in Hooker’s palafoxia.
The plant produces a large number of flowers from June through October. Each flower is short-lived, but they bloom in such close succession that there are nearly always flowers present.
Palafox propagates most easily through seeds.
Palafox plants are occasionally available at nurseries in regions where they are native. They can be easily propagated with seeds.
Although seeds are not always easy to find, they are not altogether unavailable to the tenacious gardener. Once you’ve got a single plant, propagation is something this plant more or less accomplishes on its own.
If you leave seedheads to dry on the plant, you are certain to see a small colony begin to form the following spring. The new plants can be relocated easily. Seeds can also be harvested from the dried seed heads in fall and started indoors near the end of winter.
Palafoxia looks great when planted next to shorter plants.
This true wildflower looks best when allowed to spread. Palafox can grow up to 5 feet in a single season, so consider grouping it with shorter plants to create a layered effect in the garden. These plants are wonderful for a prairie or cottage garden that highlights their wildflower appearance.
How to Grow Palafox
In their native range, palafox is exceptionally easy to grow. It has few to no pests and diseases. Except for root rot caused by overly moist soil, once you’ve got this plant in your yard, you will see it return for many years.
When planting Palafox in containers, it is imperative they have drainage holes to release excess moisture.
A raised bed can be a wonderful place to grow a wildflower garden. Since palafox reseeds freely, keeping your plants in a raised bed will help control and contain the spread.
Any container that you plant palafox in should have excellent drainage. These plants do not like to sit in water, which invites root rot.
A standard terracotta pot will wick water away from the roots. Just make sure there is at least one drainage hole in your container.
Since these plants are native to hot, arid climates, they do best in full sunlight.
Palafox needs plenty of sunlight. Although it will survive in partial shade, full sun is this plant’s preference. Some species of Palafox are heliotropic, meaning they follow the sun throughout the day, turning their flowers toward the light. If you’ve planted your Palafox in too much shade, it will let you know by leaning toward the light.
Palafox needs no shelter from the sun, even in the hottest climates. In the afternoon’s heat, this plant is a true sun worshipper. You can plant your palafox where most plants wither and wilt in the summer sun, and it will reward you by growing and blooming more vigorously.
Loose, well-draining soil with sand and rocks is best for growing palafox.
The best type of soil for palafox is a mix of sand, gravel, and loam. The soil must drain quickly and thoroughly for this plant to be happy.
This is not a picky plant where soil pH is concerned. It will thrive in acidic or neutral soil, although very alkaline soil will cause nutrient uptake issues. Plant palafox in sandy, rocky soil for the best results.
The watering needs of this plant are fairly low.
Palafox is very drought tolerant. When initially planted, it will take more water, as most plants do, and you should water it lightly every 2-3 days for the first six weeks. Once the plant is established, only water it during prolonged drought or periods of excessive heat.
If your region receives regular rainfall, it is unlikely that your palafox will need much intervention. Several days of dry soil will not bother this plant. The most important thing is to keep the roots from sitting in soggy soil for a prolonged period.
Climate and Temperature
Hot, dry climates are well-suited for growing palafoxia.
This is a hot weather plant. To be more specific, all species of palafox have adapted to hot, dry climates, making them very low maintenance. They can produce a surprising amount of nectar for the volume of water they intake.
A balanced fertilizer can be used sparingly with palafox.
Fertilize this plant sparingly. Palafox is efficient at utilizing nutrients, and as long as the soil is not too alkaline, it should be fine with what the soil has to offer. You can fertilize once in the spring to boost your new plants, using a balanced fertilizer such as a 5-5-5 formula.
Maintenance and Care
Palafox plants are considerably low maintenance.
If you want the plant to reseed naturally, leave the spent seedheads attached to the plant, allowing them to dry and release their seeds.
If you wish to encourage new, healthy growth, you can prune away any dead or brown foliage. Pruning isn’t essential to keep the plant healthy, but it does make it more pleasing to the eye.
Because palafox is an annual, it doesn’t require any special timing for removing dead growth. In the fall, you can pull the entire plant or cut the foliage at ground level to clean up the garden and keep things looking neat for winter.
Though there are 12 species of palafox, some are easier to come by than others. These eye-catching varieties are some of our favorites.
Feay’s palafox has woody characteristics, setting it apart from the others.
Endemic to central and southern Florida, Feay’s palafox is a quirky little plant with a unique appearance. This plant grows in scrub areas and sandhills, blooming in the fall. Feay’s is an important food source for many native bees, butterflies, and wasps in its native region.
The flowers on this species set it apart from other genera in the Aster family. Although herbaceous, it has woody characteristics.
This species has no ray florets. The disk florets are white and tubular, sometimes with a pinkish tint. The standout features of these flowers are the purple stigmas that protrude from the tubelike flowers. Tiny, white styles poke through these stigmas and curl at the ends.
Directly beneath the flowers are purple or green bracts. The stems can reach up to 6 feet. Leaves are rough to the touch, ovate, and green.
The tubular shape of desert palafox flowers is ideal for pollinators.
The native range of desert palafox encompasses only a tiny portion of the United States and Mexico. It’s found in California, Nevada, and New Mexico. It is native to the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts, Baja California, and northwest Mexico.
This species can grow quite tall, at up to 6 feet. Stems are tall and thin, with long, narrow, lanceolate leaves arranged opposite one another, evenly spaced from top to bottom.
This species also has flowers with only disk florets and no ray florets. These small, pale pink, tubular florets open at the end to a star shape. The stigma and styles are similar to those of Feay’s palafox. They are darker in color and protrude from the center of the florets.
This variety is grown mostly for its bright and showy flowers.
Texas palafox is one of the more ornamental species with flamboyant flowers. The native range for Texas palafox is not limited to Texas; it includes Florida, Louisiana, parts of Mexico, and a tiny region in Massachusetts (where it’s considered an ephemeral species).
This species has a nice long blooming period, from May through October in most cases. This makes it an excellent source of food for local pollinators. Its bloom time and its drought tolerance make this a very important member of the food supply.
Texas palafox has a mature height of about 3 feet tall. Its bright green, lanceolate foliage is slightly rough to the touch. Up to 4 or 5 flowers appear on each stem. The flowers are brighter in color than most species, giving them greater value as ornamental garden members.
The small palafox only grows to be about 2 feet tall.
Another long bloomer, small palafox flowers from June through November, making it another great food source for pollinating insects. This species is more compact than most and quite showy. It makes a nice foreground or midground plant in the cottage or prairie garden.
Small palafox is native to the south-central United States and Hawaii, where it grows in gravely or sandy soils and limestone glades. It blooms from August through October.
The foliage is wispy and shrubby, with delicate, lanceolate leaves in a blue-green shade. The flowers have bright pink amble disk florets that open fully to star-shaped blooms.
This showy plant produces brightly colored flowers. Image Credit: “Picture A Day July 17, 2010 – Rosy Palafox (Palafoxia rosea) at Devil’s River State Natural Area” by mlhradio, CC BY-NC 2.0, via Flickr.
Rose palafox is a smaller cultivar, predominantly native to Texas. It is drought-tolerant and attractive to native pollinators. It has a long bloom time throughout the summer and fall.
The foliage is dark green and ovate, with leaves growing opposite each other on 2-foot-tall stems. This species has one of the most showy flower forms.
The flowers are thimble-shaped and come in a wonderful shade of lavender pink. When open, they are star-shaped with a deep red stigma and styles in a slightly deeper pink than the flowers.
Hooker’s or sand palafox is one of the showiest varieties.
Also known as sand palafox, these are the showiest palafox species. Named for the former director of Kew Gardens, William Jackson Hooker, this mid-sized plant reaches 4 feet tall by the end of the season.
They are native to Texas and Mississippi and commonly found on rocky hillsides and meadows. Hooker’s palafox can tolerate some shade, although it will flower best in full sun.
It tolerates different soil types, including clay, loam, and limestone. The foliage is dark green and denser than most species, with lanceolate leaves. The flowers of this cultivar are showier than most.
The flowers are bright pink and comprise about 12 deeply-toothed ray flowers. In the center is a cluster of tubular disk florets. Butterflies are especially fond of this species, which blooms from June through October.
Pests and Diseases
Root rot is one of the few concerns of palafox, but it can be avoided with proper watering.
One of the nicest things about palafox plants is their near-complete resistance to insects and diseases. This is not to say that pests cannot take up residence, but they do not have any specific enemies in their native habitat.
The only disease to be concerned about is fungal root rot. Because these plants prefer dry weather and very well-drained soil, they develop root rot if left in soggy soil. This is easy to avoid with the right soil and infrequent watering.
Palafox is a lovely low-maintenance plant that provides late summer and fall color and plenty of nectar for local pollinators. Butterflies especially love the flowers on this plant! With its lovely wildflower-like appearance, palafox makes a great addition to cottage and prairie gardens.