One of the many aspects I love about being in the mountains is that they seem to defy time. Not in any science fiction sort of way, but more in terms of seasonality. What I mean by this is that if a plant is done flowering at the base of the mountain, there is a good chance that it is still flowering closer to the top. This ability to rewind flowering seasons has been beautifully illustrated this month by beetleweed (Galax urceolata).

This lovely plant is a member of the family Diapensiaceae. It is the only species in that genus. When I first arrived in the Southern Appalachians a couple of weeks ago, most of the plants at low altitudes were nearly done flowering. I was a bit disappointed as I had never seen this species in person before. It didn't take long before the situation was remedied. 

The first trip up a mountainside revealed that plants midway up where just reaching full bloom and plants near the top were just beginning. Going up in elevation is a fun proxy for going up in latitude. Changes in microclimates mean plants are experiencing different cycles every few hundred feet. As such, this whole month I have been able to enjoy sequential blooming of a wide variety of plants simply by hiking up.

Galax urceolata is a beautiful plant. Get up close and the beauty is replaced by a rather mousy odor. There isn't much information on what is pollinating this species but my bet is on either flies or beetles. Recently I did observe a bumblebee briefly visiting an inflorescence but whether or not this was a one off remains to be seen. It is an evergreen plant, keeping its leaves all winter. The leaves turn from green to red as they fill with anthocyanin pigments. There has been a lot of discussion over the role these pigments play in the survival of this species. Some feel it is a way of protecting against harsh light. Evidence is showing the issue to be more complex than that. Though they probably serve many functions, the main purpose of these pigments may actually be to protect the plants cellular machinery from dangerous oxygen free radicals. 

Another interesting thing about this species is that both diploid and tetraploid populations exist and there is evidence that they segregate themselves by habitat. This very well could lead to speciation, rising the species count in this genus to two. For now, treating them as a single species is fine by me. It looks like I will get to enjoy these beautiful albeit stinky blooms for the rest of my stay in the mountains. 

Further Reading: