Galax urceolata
Friday, June 17, 2011

Galax, also called beetleweed or wandflower, possesses very similar-looking flowers to Fly Poison. However, they are members of very different families.

The most obvious way to distinguish the two is by their basal leaves: Fly Poison’s basal leaves are grass-like and narrow, whereas Galax’s are wide, shiny, thick, toothed, and heart-shaped. Also, whereas Fly Poison flowers appear to have six petals (when in reality they only have three), Galax has five true petals on each small flower. Similar to Fly Poison, however, it has many small white flowers arranged in racemes on stalks that can reach 50.8 cm (20 in) tall. Galax is also a perennial, but is more specific about its habitat; it prefers moist, shaded woodlands in the mountains or the uplands. They share the flowering season of late spring to early summer.

Galax have horizontal rhizomes for roots, allowing them to spread from a central plant and form clusters. Some consider the plants to be malodorous, smelling like skunk or mold. The source of this smell is unclear.

Galax can be found in most of the eastern United States, particularly in the Appalachians. Since before 1900, people in rural Appalachian communities have harvested Galax for its attractive foliage, which can be sold for use in floral arrangements or coverings for funeral caskets. It is particularly valuable for the fact that its thick, leathery leaves can be stored for weeks, or even months, before use. Since the 1900s, many Hispanic workers have taken up the business, and now make up 90% of Galax harvesters. Since a restricted harvesting season was intstituted, instances of Galax “poaching” and thievery combined with more efficient harvesting practices which involve removing the entire root system have lead to concerns about the long-term health of the Galax population.

This specimen was collected behind the pumphouse.

Articles by Hazel Galloway