Galax is an evergreen herbaceous perennial plant of the Southern Appalachian Highlands, now endangered in the Montreat wilderness. The leaves are in great demand by florists, but cannot be cultivated commercially. Consequently, distributors of floral materials pay teams of pickers to harvest the leaves illegally from public and private land, such as the Montreat hiking areas. Serious soil erosion often results from such commercial harvesting, and the Galax species may soon become officially endangered.
Hikers, we have a problem!
(Originally printed in the Winter 2010 issue of The Wanderer.)
Galax leaves are being illegally harvested by the hundreds of thousands here in our 2,500 acre Montreat Wilderness. A good Galax worker can pick 4-5,000 leaves a day, and it is estimated that more than 1.7 million Galax leaves are stolen each year from Montreat wilderness lands. The sale of these leaves contributes to an estimated total of two billion Galax leaves picked each year in the southern Appalachian Mountains and sold to florists throughout the Southeast. This is a $20 million a year business, but…
Galax harvesting is NOT good for our mountains…
- it causes soil erosion;
- it spoils the beauty of God’s creation;
- it may soon eradicate this slow-growing species of plant; and…
Galax harvesting is NOT legal on the private wilderness property owned by the Mountain Retreat Association and overseen by the South Appalachian Highlands Conservancy for the state of North Carolina. Galax harvesting here is against the law and subject to severe penalties.
What can you do to help end illegal Galax harvesting in Montreat? If you witness a vehicle within Montreat that you believe contains Galax, get the license tag number and vehicle description, and
- if you can do so without risk to yourself, immediately call the Police Department, 669.8072, or
- email Jason Nanz ( MontreatWilderness@gmail.com ) at the Conference Center; he will contact the police.
Thank you for doing your part to protect our wilderness. Next spring, when you see a lush, green patch of Galax on the trail, it will be thanks, in part, to your stewardship and vigilance.
What is Galax?
Galax (Wandplant, Wandflower, or Beetleweed) is a genus in the flowering plant family Diapensiaceae, containing a single species, Galax urceolata (syn. G. rotundifolia, G. aphylla). It is native to the southeastern United States from Massachusetts and New York south to northern Alabama, growing mainly in the Appalachian Mountains at altitudes of up to 1,500 m, where it grows in shaded places in forests.
It is an evergreen herbaceous perennial plant growing to 30-45 cm (rarely 75 cm) tall, with a rosette of leathery leaves which grow only at the base of the plant, and turn brown during winter. The leaves are a rounded cardioid (heart) shape, 2.5-7.5 cm diameter, rarely up to 15 cm, with a serrated margin with rounded “teeth”. The flowers are produced in late spring to early summer, white in color and on a single spike-like raceme 15-25 cm long on top of a 20-50 cm tall stem. Each individual flower has five petals, and is up to 4 mm or 0.15 inches in diameter. The fruit is a small capsule containing numerous seeds.
The leaves are often harvested for the florist industry; concern has been expressed over excessive exploitation, and collection is now restricted in many areas. It has also been used in herbalism to treat cuts and kidney ailments. It is occasionally grown as an ornamental plant in gardens.
See this article on plant harvest in our forests,