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What Is Galax?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 15 November 2014
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Galax is a genus of evergreen perennial plants native to the southeastern regions of the United States. This genus is monotypic, with a single species, G. urceolata. Populations of this plant in the wild are a conservation concern in some areas due to harvesting of its leaves during the winter months for the floristry trade. It is also grown in gardens and some researchers have proposed developing plantations to allow florists to access leaves without disturbing wild populations.

This plant grows in spreading clumps. It produces heart-shaped leaves that are dark green for part of the year, deepening to bronze in the fall and winter. The flowers are white and grow on a single spike in the spring months. Galax is a low-lying plant prized primarily for its showy foliage. In nature, it grows in forests and woodlands, and prefers partial shade when it is grown in the garden.

Gardeners interested in Galax may be able to find a specimen at a nursery or through a mail order catalog. Fellow gardeners can also provide divisions of established adult plants. The plant should be grown in rich, well-drained soil worked with organic material like leaf litter, and should be placed in a moderately shady area of the garden. It is most commonly used as a groundcover in massed plantings and pairs well with deciduous trees and shrubs. Once established, it will spread steadily through the garden.

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United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) zones four through eight generally provide good conditions for growing this herbaceous plant. The retention of foliage through the winter months can be an appealing feature in regions where most plants lose their leaves or die back during the cold season. In colder regions, it can be cultivated in a greenhouse kept at a moderate temperature.

Historically, Galax was used in herbal medicine to treat liver and kidney ailments. The primary commercial use for the plant is in the floristry trade. The plight of wild Galax plants illustrates a common problem with wildcrafting, the collection of wild plants for various uses. When a particular plant becomes especially popular, it may be harvested at a rate faster than it can regrow, leading to depletion of the wild populations. People also become dependent on the plant for income, making it difficult to enact conservation measures, as people who collect the plant want to be able to continue to do so.

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