Do you have a Palafox borealis? by Elizabeth Licata

Palafoxia arida, photo by Stan Shebs via Creative Commons

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.

Do you have a Palafox borealis? originally appeared on Garden Rant on May 10, 2016.


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