galax plant

The Galax plant turns a shade of plum during winter due to the increased sunlight it is exposed to during fall when the leaves drop from the trees.

Dear Naturalist,

The galax growing in my yard turns purple every winter. In the spring, summer and fall it’s green. What’s going on there? — JD, Jonas Ridge

JD,

Galax is a native evergreen that grows in large bunches on our forest floors. It has rounded, leathery leaves and can produce a skunky smell in the summer and fall.

This is a plant that thrives in dark, thick forests. And so, when tree leaves fall from the canopy in autumn, the galax is exposed to more sunlight than it can handle. The abundance of light can cause damage to the plants’ DNA and might even kill this shade-lover.

In response to the increase in sunlight, galax plants begin to produce anthocyanins — a pigment, which appears as purple, that serves as a sort of sunscreen. Dog hobble, which grows along shady riverbanks, also turns a shade of plum in December.

If you have a question concerning flora and fauna, please email dearnaturalist@gmail.com. All of your questions will be answered. One or two will be featured next week. See you on the trails!

Amy Renfranz is a Certified Naturalist through the Yellowstone Association Institute and a Certified Environmental Educator in the state of North Carolina.

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