Do you have a Palafox borealis?

Do you have a Palafox borealis?
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Palafoxia arida, photo by Stan Shebs via Creative Commons

Of course you don’t. I am pretty sure it’s a made-up plant. I was reading about it in a novel by Angela Thirkell called The Old Bank House. Here’s the description of it:

…a clump of rather ugly serrated leaves, fleshy and covered with a kind of whitish bristles as if they had forgotten to shave, from which rose a short gray-green stalk crowned by a sticky knob from which depended, apparently, three strips of housemaids’ flannel.

The Palafox plays a minor role throughout the novel, as the elderly lady who owns it sells her house, but first gives the plant to a friend so that a rival gardener can’t sneak in and get it from the new owner. She also stipulates that the seeds—when the plant flowers, as it does every seven years or so (according to her), be sold to the Royal Horticultural Society for fifty pounds, which was a lot of money then and would be a lot more now. There actually is a plant called either Palafox or Palafoxia (no borealis though) that bears some resemblance to this description; wikipedia says “It is glandular and hairy on the upper parts.” It is also native to the Southwest US and Mexico, though it’s not inconceivable that it would find its way into the hands of a rabid English gardener in the mid-twentieth century.


Anyway. I don’t have one or want to have one. But I do have a few plants that I drag visitors to with pride, usually when they’re trying to admire better-looking specimens. These are the plants that nobody else has, and often there’s a reason for that. Take my Boehmeria tricuspis. Some people like its big, slightly serrated leaves, but few could admire the flowers, which Tony Avent rightly refers to as resembling “limp pipe cleaners.” My husband regularly asks if it’s a weed that needs removal. And then there is a big native I have, Collinsonia canadensis, which at least has the virtue of being a regional plant, but won’t win any beauty contests. Neither of these are really ugly, but they’re so easily overlooked that you need to drag people up to them. Which I do, every summer.

I bet we all have plants like this.

Posted by

Elizabeth Licata
on May 10, 2016 at 10:11 am, in the category It’s the Plants, Darling.


    • Allen Bush
    • 5th August 2015

    I love Collinsonia canadensis! Great foliage. I pretend it’s a hardy Brugmansia. My friends don’t buy my reasoning. The little yellow blooms on Collinsonia aren’t anything close to the magnificence of an angel’s trumpet. But I’m sticking with Collinsonia. It’s bone hardy and easier than pie.

    • admin
    • 30th October 2016

    Have to agree with your hubby Elizabeth, Boehmeria tricuspis a weed, right?

    • Eliz
    • 3rd November 2016

    Since he once tried to pull out a tree peony thinking it was a weed, his opinion should not be your guide!

    • Carol
    • 13th November 2016

    I have a Night-Blooming Cereus as a houseplant since it wouldn’t survive outdoors here. I often have to explain why I have such an ugly houseplant in the corner of my sunroom. But since it was once my father’s and is now approaching it’s 45th year in captivitiy with my family, I can’t just throw it out.

    • Paul H Schneider
    • 14th November 2016

    Elizabeth, For sure.. I enjoy taking Southerners who visit,to see my Phytolacca americana ‘Sunny-side Up’ – AKA golden leaved Poke. When I lived in northern NY any Poke was a novelty. Also my Asian Arisaemas- Jack in the Pulpits. and on and on….

    • Eliz
    • 15th November 2016

    Love the Poke!

    • Caroline
    • 15th November 2016

    Ah, Angela Thirkell! She is very good about the oneupmanship of some gardeners. And I love your Boehmeria and might just need to acquire one myself.

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