Flora Fact: Pinkalicious!
Both butterflies and young girls are crazy about palafox’s color.
By Jason Singhurst
My daughters, like many little girls, are in love with the color pink. Together, we’ve read the Pinkalicious series of children’s books about a whimsical young girl who adores pink more than anything in the world. When I am traveling across Texas in late summer and fall, I see waves of Palafoxia (the pink-flowering member of the sunflower family) attracting scores of butterflies while reminding me of our precious girls.
Texas is blessed with seven of the 12 species in the genus Palafoxia, an extremely eye-catching member of the sunflower family. These brilliant pink, reddish, purple and sometimes white Palafoxia are intoxicating and warrant a flurry of digital photos no matter how many times I encounter them.
Palafoxia, commonly called palafox or Spanish needles, are named after José de Palafox y Melzi, duke of Saragossa (1776–1847), a Spanish captain-general and patriot. Palafoxia species are very drought-tolerant. Palafox are annual or perennial herbaceous plants that are often found growing in sandy plains, deserts, savannas and grasslands. All of the species of palafox are native to North America, found primarily in the southern United States and northern Mexico.
Palafox plants are erect and have a slender stem, and grow from 12 inches to just over 6 feet tall. Palafox plants usually branch in the upper part of the stem with the lower half sparsely leaved. Palafox stems and leaves are glandular or hairy on the upper parts. The leaves are lance-shaped, are alternately arranged on the stems and measure up to three-quarters of an inch wide and 1.5 to 3 inches long. The flower heads are terminal (occurring at the tip of the upper branches), and each flower has three narrow lobes. The narrow fruit (an achene) has featherlike hairs (the pappus) with several pointed scales.
Palafox attract butterflies, bees and birds and are used as food plants by the larvae of several butterflies and moths. There are a few moth specialists that feed solely on specific species of palafox. Rosy palafox (Palafoxia rosea) has been used for the treatment of fever, nausea and chills.
Palafox species are found throughout Texas. Showy palafoxia or Hooker’s palafoxia (Palafoxia hookeriana) is a Texas endemic (found nowhere else but Texas). It grows along margins of woodlands on deep sands from the Pineywoods west through the post oak belt and south to the South Texas sand sheet.
Reverchon’s palafoxia (Palafoxia reverchonii), another Texas endemic, is found in deep sandy soils in openings of post oak or pine woodlands. Rosy palafox (Palafoxia rosea) is found in sandy soils along the middle Gulf coast, the post oak belt, the Rolling Plains and High Plains. Sand palafox (Palafoxia sphacelata) is found in sandy soils throughout the High Plains, Rolling Plains and Trans-Pecos.
Rio Grande palafox (Palafoxia riograndis) is restricted to Big Bend and northern Mexico in sandy or silty soils along the Rio Grande. Texas palafox (Palafoxia texana) occurs in calcareous (usually rocky or gravelly) soils in South Texas and in isolated populations along the Caprock in the High Plains. Small palafox (Palafoxia callosa) is found in limestone glades, sandy areas and gravelly stream edges through most of Central Texas and North Texas.
Whether or not you know little girls who love pink, you will be amazed at the number of species of butterflies and moths that are attracted to palafox. If you have a chance, check out the amazing diversity of palafox that is displayed through Texas landscapes.