Until October of last year (2013), Galax (Galax urceolata) had never been reported from the 26,ooo acres of woodlands in the Falls Lake State Recreation Area. Although it is a common plant in the mountains of North Carolina, Galax is uncommon in the Central Piedmont, existing in small, isolated populations in specialized, forested sites with cool, north-facing slopes.
Last October, Hugh Nourse was walking through the forested slopes below the B. W. Wells home site at Rockcliff Farm. He noticed a group of small, evergreen plants with rounded leaves, and immediately recognized them as Galax. These plants did not have the long leaf stalks and large, glossy leaves typical of most Galax, but were small with short leaf stalks, causing them to lie close to the ground.
A week later we returned to the same site and were successful in locating a second, small colony on a nearby slope. These plants were even smaller and less concentrated than the first group, and barely visible more than a few feet away.
The first colony faces North East and the second colony faces directly North. Both sites are located well below the trails used for wildflower tours and educational walks. A large population of Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia) is located about 50 yards away, although none are in the immediate area. Beech, oak, maple and hickory trees are immediately around the two small colonies.
The next photograph shows the position of the two colonies as viewed from across Soapstone Cove.
The final photograph shows the location of the two colonies from the tip of Soapstone Point. Before the creation of Falls Lake, these colonies were located at the top of bluffs that ran down to the Neuse River below. Now they are at the bottom of the slopes, just above the edge of the lake.
In 2005, an extensive vegetation survey was conducted at Rockcliff Farm, with a dozen experts in field botany identifying and recording the plants found. Galax was not seen then, nor on any of the many wildflower tours and walks that have taken place in that area over the years. A visit to the site this month (Feb 2014) found the first colony completely covered with leaves and the second with only a few plants visible.
It is possible that the Galax colony flourished during Dr. Wells’ lifetime and fell into a compromised state as the lake was created and the surrounding forest changed. We are hoping to manage this small population and revive it over the next few years.