Christmas Holidays in Appalachia Wildflowers & Trees Of Appalachia


Galacking in the mountains
If you’ve walked through the woods in the mountains of NC-then you’ve most likely seen the Galax plant. It’s small, shiny, bright green leaves brighten the dim understory of the woods throughout western NC. I can stand in my yard and see it growing-and when I was a little girl-Galax was a favorite addition to the mud pie creations I made in Granny and Pap’s backyard. I didn’t know what it was called-but I knew where it grew when my pretend cooking needed something green and shiny added to it.

Although I’ve been familiar with the plant my entire life-it was only after reading John Parris’s My Mountains My People that I discovered the sale of Galax has been a million dollar industry for western NC.

Parris’s book was published in 1957 and had this to say about Galax:

“For almost half a century many a mountain man has been using galax leaves for money. Right now the market is booming just as it does every year about this time for galax has become synonymous with Christmas, and the round heart-shaped leaves of bronze and wine red are fetching a pretty penny in the florist trade. Even during the depression there was a steady market for them in the North where they were used for funeral wreaths. As an industry confined to our mountains, gallackin’ that’s what mountain folks call gathering the leaves is comparatively new. Some folks say that T.N. Woodruff up at Low Gap started it back in 1907 when he visited a florist friend in New York and took him a few bunches of galax leaves as a gift.”

As you might imagine in certain areas Galax was gathered almost to the point of extinction. And in many areas-it’s against the law to harvest Galax today. But the fact remains-Gallackin’ is still a way to make money in western NC.  In recent years efforts have been made to commercially produce Galax-as a way to ensure the continued economic benefit of selling Galax as well as to make sure the native plant continues to flourish. You can read about one of the trials by clicking here.

I’ve never gathered Galax to sell-nor have I known anyone who did. But as I looked at the leaves and thought about folks gathering them to sell each Christmas-I was reminded of my days of pulling tobacco leaves for Mr. Hollingsworth to make money for Christmas shopping. And of Miss Cindy’s stories of her Mother and Aunts making their special Mints to sell at Christmas time.

Questions: 1. Have you ever heard of Gallackin? 2. What have you done to make extra money for Christmas?



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  • Reply
    December 20, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    I am familiar with the leaves but never knew what they were called. And I’ve never been Gallackin. Sounds fun though. LOL
    I have sold a few handmade things to make Christmas money, but that’s about it.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    December 17, 2010 at 9:30 am

    I’ve seen those plants in the woods but never knew their story. I’ll look at them with more respect next time.
    Ken, a dope and a moon pie….lol…..I haven’t heard a drink called a dope in a loooong time! Thanks for that reminder

  • Reply
    kenneth o. hoffman
    December 17, 2010 at 12:53 am

    Tipper: a new one on me, we picked ferns for the florists,peeling cascara bark was a way to make money ,but it also killed the tree. so you had to be very careful not to get caught. we sold the dried bark to the druggist for laxative.also i raised chickens for eggs , walked the area ,sold the eggs for 50 cents a doz. in those days i think kids were a bit more industrious. at least it seems so . happy days .k.o.h

  • Reply
    Vicki Lane
    December 16, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    I’ve heard of galackin’ but around here, I’ve heard more of the trimmin’s man, coming around to trim boxwoods to use in wreathes. Lots of folks planted boxwoods for that very reason.
    I used to earn money for Christmas (this is over fifty years ago) by alphabetizing checks in the book keeping department of a bank.

  • Reply
    December 16, 2010 at 9:02 pm

    I never heard of Galax before today. Thank you for sharing some great stores. For Christmas this year and in the last couple of years I have woven baskets and sold them. Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  • Reply
    Vera Guthrie
    December 16, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    I so remember Galax Leaves from Floral Design. They were always a go to to enhance a floral arrangement. We used to get them in everyday many many boxes. We took them to the sink gace them a good wash picked them and started our arrangements. I used to make cornshuck wreaths and dolls to make extra money at Christmas. Rough on the hands but beautiful wreaths. I got more pleasure out of seeing my wreaths on folks doors than the money I made. Poor is poor don’t take much to make you happy LOL

  • Reply
    December 16, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    very interestin!

  • Reply
    December 16, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    What an interesting post Tipper. I’ve seen the plant many times when we were in TN and it is a very pretty leaf. I used to crack and shell pecans and sell them to make my Christmas money.

  • Reply
    Pat in east TN
    December 16, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    I have that little plant all over my woods and actually never knew what it was. I just enjoy seeing it when most everything else has died off. Thanks for this post Tipper … I definitely leaned something today!

  • Reply
    December 16, 2010 at 11:37 am

    never seen or heard of this plant. as i read about it I was thinking, Well I never! very intersting. when my kids were little to make extra money and buy their bikes, i painted toy soldier ornaments and made christmas butterfly ornaments. i bought two bikes with the money

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    December 16, 2010 at 11:16 am

    Tipper–I know a couple of folks over in Graham County who were, at least as of three or four years ago, still doing some gallackin’ (I think they had to buy some kind of license or permit from the Forest Service). I’ve written about the practice a few times over the years and will add a bit to what you and John Parris offer.
    There’s a twon in the Virginia high country just over the border with N. C. named Galax. The leaves were not only used for funeral wreathes and Christmas decorations, they were also a favorite for weddings. I know of at least one wedding in recent years, the daughter of a good friend and fishing buddy, where galax leaves figured in a prominent fashion.
    Brother Don is exactly right about the color change–lots of purple, deep red, magenta, and maroon in galax leaves this time of year. The plant also has a lovely white bloom atop a long stem (late spring/early summer).
    As for pocket money for Christmas, I sacked groceries some as a boy, but work (at least of the kind which paid cash money) was hard to come by in Bryson City during the winter when I was a youngster. Of course I guess you could say I’m still trying to earn money for Christmas, mostly by trying to swap published words for a few seasonal shekels.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    December 16, 2010 at 11:13 am

    What a sweet leaf. I can see why florists would use them. Over here I would say that perhaps salal would be the equivalent to your galax. Bet and I have been rollin’ our brains around what we will do here at the Farm to have cash flow during the winter once Dirt isn’t teaching any more, fortunately we have time to think about it and perfect our means.

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    December 16, 2010 at 11:07 am

    Tipper, I am too long and too far away from the woods. I’m sure I have seen them, just don’t remember.

  • Reply
    December 16, 2010 at 10:51 am

    When I was little, my daddy taught me how to curl galax leaves and make a little cup so we could drink from the streams. I thought he was the only person who knew that wonderful trick.
    I made Christmas money wrapping presents at the local department store. Taught me a great deal about people, as well as how to wrap with the smallest amount of paper!

  • Reply
    December 16, 2010 at 10:28 am

    I’ve seen those little green heart
    shaped leafs growing all my life.
    Never thought much about them and
    didn’t know people gathered them for sale. They’re all over the place where I live.
    As a young boy we found a way to
    make money during the Christmas season. My daddy built houses for
    newcomers from Fla, Ill., Mich, etc., and took care of their places cause he had their keys. He
    told us that we should gather some
    mistletoe with the white berries
    and show them and they might buy
    it. We had that stuff all over our
    house anyway during Christmas. So
    we took a rifle and shot many bunches out of those huge oaks and
    would sell a poke full for $2.00 a
    bag. Then we’d head for the store
    for a dope and moon pie…Ken

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    December 16, 2010 at 9:37 am

    I have not heard the word..Gallackin..that I recall.
    I have transplanted some Galax from the back of our place to a small wildflower garden near my back yard…I always called it my “Fairy Wand Flower” simply because somehow the word Galax just didn’t fall off the tongue and seem so pretty to me…My Mom when seeing my little transplant knew exactly what it was since she grew up in Madison county NC…where a lot of Galax is harvested..
    After finding a source to buy it online, I see why it is sometimes illegally harvested in our protected forests..and private properties…
    Ten bunches (10 leaves to a bunch) for 159.00 wholesale!!
    I dare anyone to harvest what little we have! LOL
    Thanks Tipper…our native plants are another thing we need to preserve…
    Babysitting money was saved for Christmas or handmade gifts were given, actually the best gifts…

  • Reply
    December 16, 2010 at 9:27 am

    Sounds like a pretty fall plant. I worked for a lady delivering her Avon products when I was growing up. Otherwise it has been seasonal jobs in college, and regular after graduation.

  • Reply
    Melissa P
    December 16, 2010 at 9:11 am

    I’ve been gallackin’, but only to add to vases of wildflowers gathered on my mountain. Of course, that was only a few at a time. I always heard them called “colt’s foot.”

  • Reply
    Tammy N
    December 16, 2010 at 9:08 am

    Had never heard of Galax. But, I do remember my Hubby’s Grandmother stripped tobacco every year to make extra money for Christmas.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    December 16, 2010 at 8:21 am

    Great subject, Tipper.
    First of all, yes, I’ve heard of galackin’ – but never done it. While it might have been harvested to the point of affecting local populations, it is still tremendously abundant in the Smokies. In fact, in many rhododendron hells, it is about the only understory plant that you’ll find.
    While all of the galax leaves are the bright shiny green during the growing season and beyond, along about this time of year some of them turn to a dark purple. During the winter season, the combination of galax leaves and the bright red fruit o partridgeberry and teaberry plants, the latter of which has its own shiny leaves, decorate the forest floor with Christmas colors.

  • Reply
    Eva M. Wike, Ph.D.
    December 16, 2010 at 7:42 am

    Hey Tipper: I have NEVER heard of selling the GALAX! We have lots of it growing in the Smokies and the Cumberlands where we hike. The notion of ‘something’ we did to earn money for Christmas is kind of ‘foren’ to me. We knew there was no money to be had – at Christmas or any other time. BUT SOMEHOW our daddy managed to get each of us an orange and pepermint stick for Christman! Wish he was still around to talk and laugh with about our ‘hard times’ in the Cove. My brother, David, just sent me an e-mail from Afghanistan. He reminded me of how daddy expressed his love to us. He NEVER said, “I love you!” He had just a simple admission: “I think an awful lot of you!” And from those words we knew he loved us-ALL eleven of us!
    I hope your Christmas Season is near perfect!
    Eva Nell

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