A Pair of Palafoxes

Rosy palafox (Palafoxia rosea) ~ Brazoria County, Texas

History connects Pensacola, Florida with a small group of lovely flowers scattered across the southern United States, including Texas. Both the genus — Palafoxia — and Palafox Street, the boulevard that lies at the heart of Pensacola’s colonial town, are named after General José de Palafox y Melzi, a Spanish nobleman and military hero.

The connection is understandable, since Pensacola is the site of the nation’s oldest European settlement.

Spanish explorer Tristán de Luna sailed into what we know as Pensacola Bay in August of 1559, charged by Spain’s viceroy of Mexico, Luis de Velasco, with establishing a settlement there.  

Luna arrived in Pensacola six years before Admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés reached Florida’s Atlantic Coast and founded St. Augustine, generally regarded as the oldest city in the United States. Had it not been for a hurricane, Pensacola might have held on to that honor, but as the Smithsonian points out, only the Menéndez colony endured:

On September 19, 1559, only weeks after he dropped anchor, a powerful hurricane blew in from across the bay, sinking all but three of Luna’s ships.
Luna dispatched a remaining ship to Veracruz, Mexico, in hopes of enlisting rescuers. For more than a year, the settlers hung on, their numbers and stores dwindling. At last, some vessels arrived to transport survivors to safe haven in Havana. By spring of 1561, only a military outpost remained; in August, its handful of soldiers abandoned the site and returned to Mexico.
It would be 1698 before Spain established another garrison in Pensacola.
Reverchon’s palafox (Palafoxia reverchonii) ~ Hardin County, Texas

Whether those earliest Spanish explorers noticed Florida’s coastal plain palafox (P. integrifolia)  or its endemic relative (P. feayi) is hard to say. But eventually the flowers did get noticed and named.

By the 1800s, botanical exploration was common, and Julien Reverchon, a French botanist who collected in Texas during the late 1800s, was honored by having his name attached to one of our state’s several species.


Comments always are welcome.
To see yet another Texas Palafox species, visit Steve Schwartzman’s Portraits of Wildflowers, here.

48 thoughts on “A Pair of Palafoxes

    1. True, but that’s a bit of a flowery costume for someone apparently riding into battle. When I enlarged the image, I enjoyed his facial expression. Surprise? Ambivalence? Who knows? But it is interesting.

  1. Interesting. I always try to imagine what it would be like to be one of the first settlers in new world.Of course, there were a lot of bad outcomes. Plants were definitely a big interest to the early Europeans and many were sent back to Europe. Even back then we had global connections.

    1. Some of the best reading I’ve done is in the journals of naturalists like Lindheimer and Roemer. Their accounts of what it was like to travel through Texas in the 1800s are fascinating and sometimes amusing — especially when they start gossiping about other botanists. Professional envy and competition aren’t new!

    1. No, this genus is native to the United States and portions of Mexico, although one species, P. callosa, has naturalized in Hawaii.

      In fact, the plants seem to have traveled the other way. One species (Palafoxia hookeriana) is named for Joseph Hooker, director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. I found this line in the Wiki about him: “Hooker succeeded in convincing the British government that botanists should be appointed to their expeditions. While his works were in progress his herbarium received large and valuable additions from all parts of the globe, and his position as a botanist was thus vastly improved.” He may have received specimens of Palafoxia from collectors here.

  2. I have to confess that this was new to me, and I am delighted to make its acquaintance. It is a very attractive plant. Thanks for a little of its history.It is certainly no surprise that professional envy, sniping and pettiness are not new. I am always grateful for the detective work of Pamela Rasmussen in exposing Richard Meintzerhagen for the fraud he was.

    1. If I’ve learned anything over the past years, it’s that “new” is all around us, even in comfortable and familiar territory. Both of these were “new” to me when I found them, although I’d seen photos of them in other blogs, and knew that they had to be around. It’s always exciting to finally come across a longed-for species; I suspect that’s the feeling birders get when they add one to their life list.

      I’d never heard of Meintzerhagen, so I went looking. I finally found what seems to be a fairly complete account of his life, with this tucked into the middle of it:

      “Of the 20,000 bird specimens previously mentioned that Meinertzhagen gave to the British Natural History Museum, nearly all of them were stolen from other collections and relabeled as his own, and some of these birds weren’t real birds at all— Richard would take parts of one bird’s body, combine it with another bird’s body, and claim to have discovered a new bird in some far corner of the earth.

      But Meinertzhagen was so trusted by the British bird enthusiasts of his day, that his “work” in ornithology— up until the 1990s— formed a foundation upon which later ornithologists based their research. To such an extent, in fact, that when his contributions were found to be almost entirely fraudulent it created a crisis in the field. Birds once believed to be extinct because Meinertzhagen had lied about the locations he had seen them in, were starting to be found in other parts of the world alive and well.”

      My, my. It reminds me of the tale of Constantine Rafinesque, who seems to have been to botany what Meintzerhagen was to ornithology. You might enjoy reading “Why Do Taxonomists Write the Meanest Obituaries?”

  3. These are beautiful, even the unopened buds are attractive, and they’re great names, too. Sometimes the Latin botanical names seem kind of drawn-out and awkward, but Palafoxia reverchonii just trips right off the tongue, doesn’t it?

    1. In fact, Palafoxia reverchonii fits right into the tune of that old camp song, “Sarasponda.” Now I’ll have that in my head the rest of the day, and I’ll probably never read the name of the flower again without having the tune resurface.

      I love the buds, and finding one in the very first stage of opening was really neat.

  4. Me after reading the first two paragraphs—Um, isn’t St. Augustine the oldest European settlement in the US? Me after reading the next two paragraphs—delete, delete, delete. Thanks for the history lesson and the connection to this beautiful flower!

    1. I grew up thinking St. Augustine was the oldest settlement, too. If I hadn’t found this flower and explored the association between the flower and Palafox Marina, I still would think that. I visited Palafox Marina about 2003, and found the flower in 2019. Learning can take some time!

    1. I found about six of the Reverchon’s palafox last October, and they were on their last legs. I wished this photo were sharper and the flower a little fresher, but I’m glad you found the photos appealing. I’m going to try again this fall to see if I can find some nicer ones. (I’d better hurry, hadn’t I?)

    1. I smiled, too. That’s my favorite detail in either photo. If I hadn’t been comparing two Palafoxia species, and only used that photo, I might have titled it “Precocious Palafox.”

    1. I didn’t find much about herbal use, but I did read that the rosy palafox was used to treat fever, chills, and nausea. One species, Palafoxia callosa, is shown in Missouri, but it’s the only one close to you, and it doesn’t seem to have crossed the river. I love a yellow sunflower as much as anyone, but I think these pretty pink members of that family as just as nice.

    1. We talk so much about six flags over Texas, but no to much about the fact that there were more than six flags over our state, or that other states shared multiple flags. Florida’s one, and the history of the state is fascinating. It’s more than boats, oranges, and spring break, that’s for sure.

  5. I have no idea what in the world is wrong with my computer but the above comment from me was not finished. Anyhow I love the name of this lovely flower- you have certainly done it justice with you camera. I shudder at my first comment since the sentence has “or and “the” that should not be there. Oh well.

    1. So, I can count you as willing to be a pal of Palafox, right? It’s an interesting genus. The Palafox species that are endemic to Florida are noticeably different: often white rather than pink, with more tubular disk flowers. It’s fun to see the variety that exists — even this pair has its differences.

    1. The Palafoxia belong to the sunflower family: the Asteraceae. They’re known as composite flowers because they have both disc flowers (the center of a sunflower) and ray flowers (popularly called petals). Sunflowers like this show off both ray and disc flowers nicely.

      What can get confusing is that some Asteraceae can have only ray flowers, while some have only disc flowers, and some that have both don’t look a thing like a sunflower. So: the rosy palafox has disc flowers, but no ray flowers (those ‘petals’ you missed), while the Reverchon’s palafox has both ray flowers (the petal-like thingies) and disc flowers.

      If you think I didn’t consult a book to be sure of all that — you’d be wrong. But I’m getting better at figuring out such things. What I don’t know is why they differ — and I’m not sure the botanists do, either.

  6. They make a very pretty pair. Palafox and Reverchon are an odd pairing, although I suppose both could be considered heroes in their own fields. It always amazes me how much can be learned from a single plant and its name. Palafox was an aristocrat, and Reverchon’s father was a follower of Charles Fourier, a founder of Utopian Socialism. And there is so much more but for now I will sit back and enjoy your lovely photos.

    1. There are other interesting people lurking around in the palafox names. Palafoxia hookeriana was named after William Jackson Hooker, the English botanist who was Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Palafoxia texana var. ambigua makes me laugh. The Texas reference is obvious, but ‘ambigua’? Maybe the botanists weren’t sure how to classify it.

      In any case, they are lovely flowers: sweet and delicate. The rosy palafox looks to me like a baby basketflower.

  7. This is fascinating, Linda. I always kind of wonder how or who names things. I didn’t know about this part of history at all. (OK — when I first saw the title, I thought this post was about foxes!). What a beautiful bloom!

    1. Here’s a really entertaining article about the scientific naming process that I think you’d enjoy. It’s well-written, and an easy read that makes things pretty clear. And besides — it explains why an insect is named after Beyonce!

      When I first heard the word ‘palafox’ attached to a Pensacola marina, I assumed it was just one of those names that a developer had come up with: perhaps a combination of two people’s names. I certainly was surprised to learn the truth, several years later. If I hadn’t already associated the word with the marina, a fox probably would have been my next choice.

    1. The name does have that sound, doesn’t it? If the huge South American armadillo can be a glyptodon, a furry omnivore certainly could be a palafox. Aren’t you glad you don’t have to keep such a thing out of your garden?

    1. It’s odd, how these are distributed. You’re not only too far north for them, they aren’t native in Mississippi, either. Even though they can be found in Florida and Texas (and a few places farther west), they skip right over Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. I’m just glad I finally got to see them in the wild. I would have missed the ones at the top if I hadn’t looked around after stopping to photograph my first rain lilies of the year — they were across the road.

    1. Despite the color difference, they remind me of the bachelor buttons my grandmother grew. Hers were a mix of colors; she had white and pink as well as the traditional cornflower blue.

  8. It’s a lovely flower with a pleasing shade to the pink. The source of plants’ names is always an interesting story. Or at least most often. I guess knowing that people thought fleabane would repel fleas isn’t all that astounding. :)

    1. They are a nice pink. Two species that are native to Florida are white, and one has tubular anthers. It’s interesting to see such marked differences within a genus.

      I guess we know why the corpse flower is named as it is. I went down to see one when it bloomed (in 2010!) and came away convinced the name was apt. She was such a great flower. They had a webcam on her 24/7, and she had her own Facebook and Twitter feeds. People stood in line for hours to see her; it was a little sad when she turned into a corpse herself.

      1. We had one bloom in a nearby college greenhouse a few years back. Having experienced an in the process decomposed human I can say it is indeed aptly named. That’s pretty cool that she got such coverage. They don’t flower very often.

  9. How lucky we are for the curious who are driven to document what they see and record what they think – even the “social media” quality stuff. Journals and botanists’ drawings fill in the real history between the dates on the timelines.
    Love that impulsive looking petal poking out on the first picture.

    1. The dates and places are important, but I wish schools used more primary sources from the people who were making what we call history. There were naturalists of every sort crawling all over Texas in the 1800s, and many of them left delightful, detailed records of what they were seeing. Even in our lifetime there were amazing things happening. Some fishermen who grew up in Chambers County remember bison swimming across waterways there — it makes it easier to understand the name “Buffalo Bayou.”

      I love that barely opened flower. Can’t you imagine its friends saying, “Hey! Take a look out there and see if it’s a good day to bloom!”

      1. People chuckle at how uneducated settlers/explorers were – but they were so observant and the habit/tradition of journals was so strong.
        Sometimes I think schools would be better to let English teachers teach history.
        (Perfect interpretation of that flower! exactly right)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.