Carnegiea gigantea, Giant Saguaro

Southwest Desert Flora

Home to the plants of the Sonoran, Chihuahuan and Mojave Deserts

Cirsium ochrocentrum, Yellowspine Thistle

Palafoxia arida var. gigantea, Giant Spanish Needles

Giant Spanish Needles has numerous pink tubular disk florets as shown here. The bracts surrounding the flower heads are rough to the touch with stiff dense gladular hairs. Palafoxia arida var. gigantea Giant Spanish Needle has pink flowers which in good rainfall years may have 100 heads per plant. Palafoxia arida var. gigantea Giant Spanish Needle blooms late winter to early spring or later; February to November. Giant Spanish Needle prefers elevations mostly below 2,000 feet (200 cm) and much lower in California. Palafoxia arida var. gigantea Giant Spanish Needle has green leaves mostly alternate and the leaf shape is linear or lanceolate. Giant Spanish Needle is also called Dune Spanish Needle because of its preference for sandy areas, particularly sand dunes. Palafoxia arida var. gigantea Giant Spanish Needle: : In the United States, Giant Spanish Needles is rare, found only in AZ and CA. It is also found in northern Mexico (Sonora) and Baja California. Insects may feed from the florets of Giant Spanish Needles. Palafoxia arida var. gigantea

Scientific Name: Palafoxia arida var. gigantea
Common Name: Giant Spanish Needle

Also Called: Desert Palafox, Dune Spanish Needle

Family: Asteraceae, Sunflower Family

Synonyms: ()

Status: Native

Duration: Annual

Size: From 1 to 2 feet (30-60 cm) or much more, 6 feet (1.8 m)

Growth Form: Forb/herb or subshrub; plants upright with multiple slender stems and branches in lower half; stems mostly smooth, without hairs.

Leaves: Green; lower leaves oppositely, upper leaves alternate; stems with few leaves; leaves from 2 to 5 inches (5-13 cm); narrow or linear,

Flower Color: Pink; numerous flower heads with good winter rainfall (up to 100); flower heads with tubular disk florets only; bracts surrounding heads rough to the touch (glandular); the fruit is a cypsela and its seeds are similar to the Dandelion puff-balls but are larger and with fewer seeds; seeds wind-borne.

Flowering Season: February or March to November (late winter early spring with fruiting through November)

Elevation: Up to 2,000 feet (610 m); much lower elevations in southern California.

Habitat Preferences: Sand dune country; sandy soils and mesas.

Recorded Range: In the United States, Giant Spanish Needles is rare, found only in AZ and CA. It is also native to north western Mexico, Sonora and possibly northern Baja California. In California it is found in the southern Colorado Desert; in Arizona, it is recorded in the Lower Colorado River Valley around Yuma, County; note that the Arizona specimen in the photo was observed near Rio Verde in eastern Maricopa County, Arizona which is not close to Yuma County.

North America & US County Distribution Map for Palafoxia arida var. gigantea.

North America species range map for Palafoxia arida var. gigantea:

North America species range map for Palafoxia arida var. gigantea: Click image for full size map.
Click image for full size map

U.S. Weed Information: Unknown
Invasive/Noxious Weed Information: Unknown
Wetland Indicator: Unknown

Threatened/Endangered Information: In North America Palafoxia arida var. gigantea, Giant Spanish Needles, is listed on the CNPS Rare Plant Inventory; California Rare Plant Rank: 1B.3 (rare, threatened, or endangered in CA and elsewhere).

Genus Information: In North America there are 11 species and 19 accepted taxa overall for Palafoxia. Worldwide, The Plant List includes 12 accepted species names and a further 17 scientific names of infraspecific rank for Palafoxia.

In the Southwestern United States: Arizona, California, Nevada and Utah each have 1 species of Palafoxia, New Mexico has 2 species and Texas has 7 species. All data approximate and subject to revision.

There are 2 varieties in Palafoxia arida, Desert Palafox
Palafoxia arida var. gigantea, Giant Spanish Needle, (AZ, CA);
Palafoxia arida var. arida, Desert Palafox, (AZ, CA, NV, UT).

Comments: Giant Spanish Needles was first described on sand dunes west of Yuma, County, Arizona. Desert Palafox was originally classified as Palafoxia linearis which is a Mexican species also called Desert Palafox, but one that does not reach as far north. Perhaps additional research will provide insight into the relationship between these two species, if in fact they are separate species.

Be aware that Palafoxia arida and Palafoxia arida var. arida and Palafoxia arida var. gigantea share the common name Desert Palafox.

In Southwest Desert Flora also see: Desert Palafox, Palafoxia arida and Desert Palafox, Palafoxia arida var. arida.

Importance to Wildlife, Birds and Livestock
Giant Spanish Needles, Palafoxia arida var. gigantea small showy pink tubular florets, their seeds and plants may be visited by hummingbirds and/or small mammals including rodents and granivorous birds in search of food, nectar, shelter and protection through cover.

Beneficial Value to Butterflies, Bees and Insects
Giant Spanish Needles, Palafoxia arida var. gigantea, small showy pink tubular florets and their plants are likely visited by butterflies, moths and other insects in search of nectar and/or other food.

The genus Palafoxia is in honor of perhaps Josè Rebolledo de Palafox y Melzi (1776-1847), Duke of Saragossa. However, a paper published by Hervè M. Burdetin suggests that the first choice name was originally to honor and commemorate Juan de Palafox y Mendoza (1600-1659), who was a bishop and founder of the University of Mexico. The paper further suggests this is so because the other Palafox, Josè Regolledo de Palafox y Melzi became a national hero and the attribution was transferred to him.

The species epithet "gigantea" is a celebration of its large size.

Desert Palafox, Palafoxia arida is used as a dye by southwestern United States indigenous peoples.
  • Cahuilla Dye, Yellow; Used as a yellow dye.

  • See complete listing of ethno-botanical uses at Native American Ethnobotany, University of Michigan, Dearborn.
    Date Profile Completed: 10/11/2012, updated 09/11/2020
    Arizona Flora, Kearney, Thomas H., Peebles, Robert H., 1960, University of California Press, Berkley and Los Angeles, as Palafoxia linearis var. gigantea.
    U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service on-line database and USGS ITIS search - (accessed 09/10/2020)
    The Plant List (2013). Version 1.1. Published on the Internet; (accessed 09/10/2020).
    David J. Keil 2012, Palafoxia arida var. gigantea, in Jepson Flora Project (eds.) Jepson eFlora, /eflora/eflora_display.php?tid=8001, accessed on September 11, 2020.
    Calflora: Information on California plants for education, research and conservation, with data contributed by public and private institutions and individuals, including the Consortium of California Herbaria. [web application]. 2020. Berkeley, California: The Calflora Database [a non-profit organization]. Available: (Accessed: Sep 11, 2020).
    California Native Plant Society; Giant Spanish-needle, Palafoxia arida var. gigantea - (Accessed: Sep 11, 2020).
    Wikipedia contributors, 'Palafoxia arida var. gigantea', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 6 June 2020, 08:50 UTC, [accessed 11 September 2020]
    Native Plant Information Network, NPIN (2013). Published on the Internet (accessed 09/11/2020). Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas, Austin, TX.
    John L. Strother,FNA; Asteraceae; Palafoxia 5. Palafoxia arida B. L. Turner & M. I. Morris, MadroƱo. 23: 79. 1975. Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 16+ vols. New York and Oxford.
    Seiler, John, Peterson, John, North American species range map courtesy of Virginia Tech, Dept. of Forest Resources & Environmental Conservation
    SEINet synonyms, scientific names, geographic locations, general information.
    Etymology:Michael L. Charters California Plant Names: Latin and Greek Meanings and Derivations; A Dictionary of Botanical and Biographical Etymology - (accessed 02/03/2020)