Spanish Needles (Palafoxia callosa)


The rocky roadsides of the Ozark region would seem an inhospitable habitat for any plantlife in the heat of summer, but Palafoxia callosa thrives there. It’s wispy blue-green foliage is an uncommon and welcome addition to the summer palate. It is very striking against the white and gray  limestone. Hundreds of small pink flowers adorn the massed plants. This is a dream plant for a xeric gardener.

Latin Name/Common Name-  According to many, the genus of Palafoxia was named after Jose de Palafox y Melzi, Duke of Saragossa who was a Spanish general, in the war against the invading armies of Napolean.  This is uncertain information and further research shows that the name may have originally been attributed to Juan de Palafox y Mendoza (1600-1659). He was the bishop who founded the University of Mexico. You can read more about this on Michael L. Charters website,  California Plant Names: Latin and Greek Meanings and Derivations. 

Callosa , derived from latin, roughly means hard, dry land and appropriately describes the preferred habitat of this plant.

Common names for Palafoxia callosa are Spanish needles and Small palafoxia. Spanish needles is a reference to the pointed scales of the seed structure.

Bloom Color-  The small flowers open as dark pink with maroon stamens–very striking. They lose saturation with age, becoming nearly white with a blush of pink after just a couple of days. The result is that a single plant will have flowers of many pink shades.

Bright pink petals and maroon stamens on a young blossom

Description-  Palafoxia callosa is a free-seeding annual of about 18-20 inches in height. The leaves are sparse, long and thin with a central crease and pointed tip.

Young Palafoxia growing in limestone early July

Branching stem with thin leaves

The stems branch many times giving a somewhat mounded, yet wispy shape to the plant. The lower stem is pubescent with the upper stems being densely glandular.

Pubescent stem with appressed hairs

Upper stem has dark, stalked glands

Seed pods

Bloom Time- How can you beat a plant that loves it hot and dry and blooms from August to October?  Palafoxia callosa is gaining in popularity as an ideal plant for first-season color and long bloom time in xeric and rock gardens. 

Habitat- On Ozarkedge, I find Palafoxia callosa growing on rocky, gravelly outbanks. It relishes the native limestone and prefers full sun with minimal shade. Calimintha arkansana and Sedum pulchellum bloomed on the same ground in the spring.

Calcareous soil

Limestone glade


Sedum pulchellum         Calamintha arkansana     Solidago nemoralis

What’s Growing Nearby? There are some worthy neighbors growing near Palafoxia callosa. On Ozarkedge, I’ve found Glandularia canadensis, Rudbeckia hirta, Opuntia humifusa and some of the Solidago varieties.

Endangered List- Fortunately, Palafoxia callosa is not listed on the federally endangered list. Yet it is only found in 6 states within the USA. I’m quite sure that it’s habitat has been encroached upon, but, luckily, it has a resilient nature. Hopefully, more and more gardeners will discover its’ attributes and use it in their home gardens. You can click on the link below to see the state distribution. In Arkansas, it is only found in the northern counties of the Ozark region.


Natureserve Palafoxia callosa


Natureserve lists Pallafoxia callosa as Possibly Extirpated in Lousianna, Critically Imperiled in Oklahoma and Mississippi, and Not Ranked/Under Review in the rest of its limited North American habitat (Missouri, Arkansas and Texas).

Interesting Tidbits- This is an excellent plant to include in a butterfly garden. It attracts the caterpillars of the Lacinia patch and Nathalis iole (Dainty Sulphur) as well as many butterflies.