Feay's Palafox

Palafoxia feayi

feay's palafox

Feay's palafox, photographed at Pondhawk Natural Area, Boca Raton, Palm Beach County, in October 2019.

Feay's palafox — Palafoxia feayi — is truly a Florida native. In fact, it's found only in Florida — endemic to Florida, as they say in scientific circles — from Marion and Volusia counties southward.

It's a perennial, and grows three to four feet tall, usually taller than it is wide. Leaves on the plant are sparse, oval-shaped near the base, more linear farther up the plant. It flowers spring to fall, white with red ends and hook-like structures. It likes full sun and dry habitats, including scrub and scrubby flatwoods.

The plant all in all, is not much to look at, but the flowers are interesting and it does attract some butterflies.

The genus is named after Jose Rebolledo Palafox, Duke of Saragossa, a Spanish general who fought the French under Napoleon during the peninsular wars. It's not unusual for prominent 18th and 19th century figures who made a mark for themselves in other disciplines to dabble in natural sciences and be honored for their work. But in Palafox's case, his military exploits seem to be much better known than his botanical, whatever they might be. Palafox apparently had little success against Bonaparte. But then, not many generals not named Wellington did.

Palafox served for a time as viceroy of New Spain and briefly was archbishop of Mexico. There is some question whether the duke should get credit for the genus or whether another Palafox was the true inspiration.

Next question: Who is Feay and why is this his palafox? Apparently William T., a 19th century doctor, botanist and professor from Savannah, Ga., who collected plants, including this one, in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and other parts of the Southeastern U.S. He found Feay's palafox while visiting the Sunshine State during the Civil War.

Regardless, there are 11 members of the genus Palafoxia, all living in dry, sandy habitats, mostly in the southeast, midwest and southwest. Feay's palafox is one of two members of the genus found in Florida, the other being coastalplain palafox, Palafoxia integrigolia, which is found in South Florida, but is considered imperiled within the region. Feay's is cultivated, used for natural landscapes and restorations. It is grown from seed; some commercial nurseries have the plant.

Feay's palafox is a host plant for the gray hairstreak butterfly. The Institute for Regional Conserviation considers Feay's rare, most likely because scrub habitat is rare. But it is not legally listed by any state or federal agency. We found some of the plants on this page at Seacrest Scrub, Yamato Scrub and Pondhawk natural areas in Palm Beach County but we've seen it in other dry, scrubby places as well.

In fact, it can be relatively abundant where it's found but the problem is these places in their natural state have become rare outside of a few preserves.

It is a member of the Asteraceae, the sunflower family.

Click on photo for larger image

U.S. Department of Agriculture Distribution Maps

Published by Wild South Florida, PO Box 7241, Delray Beach, FL 33482.

Photographs by David Sedore. Photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without permission.