Appalachia Christmas Holidays in Appalachia

Galax For Christmas

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. 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.

Galacking in the mountains
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.

Galax in Western NC

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.

Selling galax in western nc

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.


1. Have you ever heard of Gallackin?

2. What have you done to make extra money for Christmas?


This post was originally published here on the Blind Pig in December of 2010. 

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  • Reply
    Rev. RB
    December 4, 2013 at 9:13 pm

    Never heard of “Gallackin” and have never done much to make extra money for Christmas beyond working everything into the budget, but there have been many years many recipients on my list received my handmade quilts or afgans that I know many of them still have.
    When I finally settle down and REALLY retire (with no part-time jobs), God willing – I’ll start making them again to catch up on young’uns born since then that have never gotten one of either from me.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    December 3, 2013 at 8:35 pm

    B. Ruth–Happy, happy birthday from one septuagenarian to another.
    Interestingly, the plant you describe as ground pine I’ve always heard called running cedar. I read somewhere that it was endangered but that’s got to be pure hogwash. It’s common as pig tracks and, as you say, is a dandy decoration. I loved all the decorations from nature you mentioned, because Momma used almost every one of them. In fact, as I was writing my December newsletter today, one of the fond memories of the season I described was her fashioning wreathes and other decorations out of white pine cones, nuts, sycamore balls, milkweed pods, and the like.
    Again, happy birthday, and for what it is worth, I’m roughly a year and a month behind you–a mere young sprout.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Susie Swanson
    December 3, 2013 at 5:56 pm

    I’ve never heard of gallackin but I’ve seen that plant all my life and didn’t know its name until now. I cleaned older ladies house in the community to make money. I didn’t get to much but I saved it like it was gold. I even worked in their yard. Back then most folks yard had to be swept with an old worn out broom. I’m getting ready to post a story about some Christmas memories in a few days Tipper and it’s about me saving my money for two very special presents. Greta post and thanks again for the post yesterday.

  • Reply
    December 3, 2013 at 2:07 pm

    That’s a new type of gathering! The story is rather interesting. To earn money I used to babysit, save my allowance, and work parttime in the public library in my home town in NJ. I remember how hard it was to save the money to, hopefully, find something special I could buy for my parents and brother and sister.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    December 3, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    In partial answer to Marc’s question about Galax and healing!
    I read that the Cherokee did use the Galax as a healing herb. But, the herb is not mentioned being used as a healing herb as much as it once was.
    In my “A Little Book of Native American Herbs and How to Grow Them …by Pamela Taylor, ND.. I do not read about Galax as a healing herb.
    Did read online that it was used for kidney problems before.
    Thanks, Tipper

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    December 3, 2013 at 12:52 pm

    I’ve seen these little colorful
    boogers all my life, never knew
    what they were called tho. And
    we never thought of selling them
    as a Christmas Decoration. But just a few hollars above ours there was a bunch of Florida folks and others from Indiana who were crazy over Mistletoe, and as boys we earned a few dollars shooting out bunches of Mistletoe for them…Ken

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    December 3, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    Oh me, oh my how I love winter greens…Not the ones you eat but the ones you decorate with!
    I looked this up many a year ago just checking on the going price of Galax. I just checked on the prices again just for “poops and grins”! It has gone up considerably! WOW!
    Wholesale flower houses online, are selling Galax for about 25 leaves equals one bunch for $109.00 = $4.40 per leaf…or if you buy up to 4 bunches (100 leaves) $168.00 a bunch = about $1.69 a leaf…
    That there is some serious money in my old dried up, leather, snap change purse!
    Now then, when will you be gone and just exactly where is that patch of Galax frum yore house! Just a kiddin’!
    The problem is these wholesale companies won’t pay you but a very small percent on the dollar of what they sell it for!
    Another of my very favorites, which we do have on our place is a beautiful Ground Pine (club moss), it has flat little fingerling protuberences that just make the most beautiful wreats..
    Of course Holly and Ivy are wonderful and plentiful as well.
    Mistletoe here is plentiful around the lake areas, where moisture just floats in the air.
    I did have one large bunch growing in an old maple here for a few years…
    I love boxwoods but I am just getting some plants moving along so it will be a few years before they will be pickable…
    I use hedgerow…dampen with water, hold upside down in a brown paper bag that has had some fine flour and glitter mixed in…You also can make a weak solution of white glue and water to make the flour and glitter hold longer…The first is an old time recipe from my Grandmothers in Appalachia…Anyhow put the branches in vases add a bow, or a few old time Christmas balls or painted white, pine cones, sycamore balls, etc.
    There is nothing prettier in my opionion than plain old woodland grey lichen…a few twigs, enhanced with white paint in a plain clear vase that will jump Christmas….
    I gotta go…I could go on decorating with the woods forever.
    Oh, and don’t forget to go out to the old Magnolia tree and pick up some of those yeller leaves and cones to spray silver or gold…Or if in the mood grab a branch ot three of the green ones…
    Don’t forget the old fenceline cedar for the special fragance too!
    Lordy, I’ma gone….
    By the way folks and Tipper,
    It’s my Birthday! Doing wheelies in my rollator and singing, it’s my birthday! I am proud to have made it to 73! No more will you guys see 72 in my posts…It will be 73, Oh me!
    Thanks Tipper, and Merry Greenery to you all…
    Oh, I used to do extra babysitting and made potholders back in the day!

  • Reply
    December 3, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    Don Casada’s pictures are beautiful. what a lovely and versatile plant.
    When I first looked at your photos I first thought of dollar weed/pennywort – – didn’t take long to realize these are quite different although they like similar habitat. I even learned that the dollar weed is also used by florists; but most folks just want to get rid of it because it will quickly crowd out desired plants and grasses.
    As for money for Christmas presents – I usually embroidered (handkerchiefs, tea towels) or sewed something or made something in the kitchen (baked goods, soup mixes, drink mixes) for Christmas gifts. (Money for the supplies was saved from allowance and school lunch money.) We also gathered pecans and picked citrus for gifts but rarely sold them.

  • Reply
    December 3, 2013 at 11:12 am

    I did not know about the Galax plant but when I saw the picture it reminded me of Wild Ginger. Thanks for sharing…it’s great to learn new stuff!

  • Reply
    December 3, 2013 at 10:06 am

    I’ve never heard of the plant. Most of my day will be spent on the 4-wheeler as I haul firewood and prepare for the storm headed this way. I hope I don’t waste too much time trying to see if Galax grows here in KY.
    I recently retired from a job where I made extra Christmas money…but not by choice. Our “peak season” started the day after Thanksgiving. Many years, I worked 12-14 straight days. I learned to Christmas shop before Thanksgiving, while I had energy and the stores were still open when I got off work.

  • Reply
    Ken Ryan
    December 3, 2013 at 10:05 am

    Having been raised in East Texas, I no nothing about the Galax plant. It’s a neat little plant…thanks for educating me on it.

  • Reply
    December 3, 2013 at 9:48 am

    Marc-thank you for the comment! I dont know if it was used or not-maybe someone who does know will chime in. Ill check in Foxfire books to see if they offer anything.
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    Marc Kruger
    December 3, 2013 at 9:29 am

    Galax has been know by herbalists to treat cuts and also for the treatment of kidney infections. Was this used in Appalachia for these purposes?

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    December 3, 2013 at 9:09 am

    I missed your post in 2010 when you wrote of Galax. I’m so glad you repeated it. I’ve never “Galacted” but we had it growing in abundance in the woods of Choestoe. How did I make money for Christmas? Gathering eggs–and if I were fortunate, we’d have a “few beyond our needs” for eating to take to the store to trade for things we couldn’t grow. And sometimes I would be given some as my very own to use to trade for Christmas gifts for others. This “barter” economy has also now passed in our beloved Appalachians (or has it? Maybe it is still practiced in areas?)

  • Reply
    Dan O'Connor
    December 3, 2013 at 8:41 am

    Never heard of gallackin. When I first saw the title of this blog I thought it was going to be about Galax, VA. My wife grew up a few miles from there in Independence, VA, and was born in Sparta, NC, the closet hospital. According to my main resource for information, Wikipedia, Galax was named for the Galax plant. Galax has been claimed as the ‘bluegrass capital of the world.’ When I was in college at Va Tech we would go there for fiddler conventions and loved it! Whenever I hear the word Galax I always have a happy warm connection. Thanks for blog and the memories.

  • Reply
    December 3, 2013 at 8:39 am

    That plant looks very familiar, and the USDA website says there is some growing in MA and NH but only as escapees from cultivation, not native. Based on the study you cited, it sounds like something that might thrive at my place – the habitat conditions sound ideal. I wonder if it’s legal to collect seeds from wild plants in your area? One more thing to add to my Daydream Roadtrip!

  • Reply
    Gina S
    December 3, 2013 at 8:21 am

    I’ve never worked specifically to earn Christmas money. Instead I’ve made gifts for some on my list. Speaking of Galax, when I was a child here in the Swannanoa Valley, we had a neighbor who moved his family down from the Bakersville area. His income came from Galax picked up around his home country. He bought directly from pickers he knew in that area. After sorting the leaves, he sold to florists around here and drove other places to deliver. He and his wife comfortably raised four children on Galax and I believe other plant products. Like a leaf thrown into a stream, his work rippled to pickers and buyers as well as to their communities.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    December 3, 2013 at 8:20 am

    Tipper–Galax often shows hues of deep red or maroon in winter. That tendency, along with its shiny appearance (almost like it had been waxed), is perfect for the Christmas season. I also know of at least one wedding where galax was used for decoration. There’s even a town in Virginia named Galax. I certainly know about gallackin’ and at some point perhaps a decade ago did a piece on it which ran as a syndicated column in 15 or 20 regional newspapers.
    As for making money at Christmas, I picked up a bit of welcome change when a boy by selling mistletoe. “Gathering” it was great fun, since it involved precarious climbs or, more often, some shooting practice with a .22.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Edwin Ammons
    December 3, 2013 at 7:42 am

    We never knew about Gallackin but we did gather moss and boxwood cuttings to sell to florists. Way back in the woods, in deep dark damp hollers where the sun never shines, the thick moss on big rocks can be peeled off like taking covers off a bed. I have seen pieces as big as 4 to 5 feet square. We would roll them up and put them in a tow sack.
    Boxwood is a domestic plant so we found it around homes and old house sites. One year in November we waded across the Little Tennessee above Loudermilk to get to an old homestead. I wasn’t being careful about where I was putting my feet and stepped into a hole that put me completely under. I got out, shook off and kept going. Coming back across we had to put our tow sacks on our heads to keep them dry but we made it unscathed.

  • Reply
    Judy Mincey
    December 3, 2013 at 7:42 am

    My brother and I picked cotton for our Christmas and Fair money. No fun except at lunch time, talking , joking, betting who would pick the most . Hard earned money.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    December 3, 2013 at 7:40 am

    Here are a few photos of galax:
    It is about the only flower which handles life in the dark understory of a rhododendron hell. It’s a favorite of mine during the winter because its leaves, all shiny green and red, seem to carry some Christmas cheer.

  • Reply
    December 3, 2013 at 7:34 am

    I gathered walnuts to sell. I knew where the trees were and carried sacks full from single trees to a grove and took a horse and sled to bring them in for hulling and drying. I also sold apples in the Fall as well as other produce through the year.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    December 3, 2013 at 7:23 am

    Of course, I’ve seen that plant all my life but until you posted about it I knew nothing about it. It is a beautiful little brave plant to persist through the cold!

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    December 3, 2013 at 7:20 am

    I’ve never heard of this, but it is a beautiful leaf.
    When I was a kid we washed cars for the neighbors and family to make extra dollars.

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, Ph.D.
    December 3, 2013 at 6:54 am

    Tipper: We have GALAX growing over here in the hills of Tennessee. I have always just admired it and never knew it was SOLD. I am sure my Smokey Mountain Hiking buddies know all about this. I will be with them hiking this Thursday. I’ll bet we will NOT see any GALAX as we are hiking close to the ‘reservation’ of Oak Ridge around the ‘SECRET SITE” of K-25! Oh well!
    Eva Nell

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