Fettered, Staggering, and Getting By

18 Jan

Staggerbush (Coastalplain Staggerbush)  Lyonia fruticosa

Fetterbush,  Lyonia lucida (In other regions the name “Fetterbush” applies to different species.)


Tarflower was in bloom a little yesterday.  All of today's photos are by JB.  This flower is about an inch across.  Those of the species shown below are much smaller.

Tarflower was in bloom a little yesterday. All of today’s photos are by JB. This flower is about an inch across. Those of the species shown below are much smaller.

“Fettered” and “staggering”  describe John and George’s web site development process (,  but  these terms are also the botanical headlines of our trip to Halpatioke Park in Stuart, Florida, yesterday to seek grass photos for the site.  Photogenic Poaceae were scarce, but Staggerbush (Lyonia fruticosa), with its rusty fuzz, and the fuzzless Fetterbush (Lyonia lucida) were abundant and in flower.  Fetterbush flowers were the blossom du jour throughout  the land, millions of them all pretty in pink.  By dint of showiness, they earn most of today’s attention.  Their relative Tarflower (Bejaria racemosa) was sporting a few blossoms itself.

Staggerbush (Lyonia fruticosa)

Staggerbush (Lyonia fruticosa)

These are all members of the Azalea Family, the Ericaceae.  Altogether there exist 35 species of Lyonia, named for John Lyon, best known for botanical exploration in the southern Appalachians around 1800, as well as at least one Florida visit.  He was a gardener, mostly in Philadelphia, and had an “eye” for ornamental Ericaceae.  Lyons may be the only botanist to “re-discover,”  fleetingly, William Bartram’s lost Franklin Tree in Georgia.  (After that, it evaporated from the wild for keeps.)  To get back to interpreting  the names, fruticosa mans shrubby, and lucida means bright.

Fetterbush pinkies.  The flowers are more elongate than those of Staggerbush.

Fetterbush pinkies. The flowers are more elongate than those of Staggerbush.

Staggerbush grows only in Florida and nearby states.  Often on its leaves appear bizarre growths about the size and shape of a mutated human ear, and bright pink.  Very eye-catching.  Looks like a gall, but, no, it is a response to a fungal infection.  To see these, go for a walk, preferably along the Trail to the River. CLICK

Fetterbush grows from Virginia to Florida, and hops to Cuba where the flowers have a subtly different shape.  For the most part it prefers acid sites with seasonal flooding or bad drainage, but its tolerances are broad, extending locally into scrubby habitats.  With no data, it seems to us that Staggerbush is more tolerant of higher drier scrub, although the two often occur together on white sand.  Fetterbush is okay in some shade, or in the sun.  They are both rise from below after burning.

Yipes stripes!  Fetterbush unripe capsules please the eye.

Yipes stripes! Fetterbush unripe capsules please the eye.

Both of our Lyonia species have  small vase-shaped  flowers,  L. fruticosa white and popular with bees, and L. lucida usually pink and much-less conspicuously visited.  Floral visitors were absent yesterday despite the magnificent floral display.  Duh, it’s winter, but January is not the entire story.

Fetterbush ripe capsules

Fetterbush ripe capsules

Botanist John Benning recently studied the floral biology of Fetterbush in Florida and experienced surprise,  although in need of further study:  Unlike other Lyonias, Fetterbush may generally not bee a honey-maker.  The main pollinators seem to be, so far, nocturnal moths.  Looking further into this seems a perfect project for student research: inexpensive and fun.  John and I would do it but we go to bed too early.  At a glance, Fetterbush flowers seem to be a bit extra-elongate, maybe excluding bees and better-fitted to a moth’s longer proboscis.  Data in Flora of North America show the Fetterbush blossoms as reaching 9 mm long as opposed to a mere 5 mm limit in Staggerbush.   Fetterbush extends its moth relationship as a larval host for caterpillars of Datana moth species.  The adult feeding of Datana moths is not well studied.


Did John Lyon re-find Franklinia?  CLICK to ponder

Is Fetterbush a “moth” flower?  PROBE with your proboscis

Where can I get one?  SPEND here


Posted by on January 18, 2014 in Fetterbush, Staggerbush


Tags: , ,

15 responses to “Fettered, Staggering, and Getting By

  1. Laure Hristov

    January 19, 2014 at 10:09 pm

    Awesome pictures! Thanks for sharing, your posts are always so fascinating!

  2. George Rogers

    January 21, 2014 at 11:47 am

    Hey Laure, Just isn’t the same round hrere without you!

  3. Mike Nalywajko

    January 28, 2014 at 7:44 pm

    Nice to know the difference between the Fetterbush and Staggerbush with the pollination. Weird that I never thought a moth would pollinate.

    • George Rogers

      January 28, 2014 at 8:56 pm

      Oh yes, moths are important pollinators, although Lyonias do not look like textbook moth flowers at all.

      • Keith Rossin

        January 29, 2014 at 10:40 pm

        The Fetterbush Is a member of the Health family (Ericaceae) which has over 1500 species and love moist well drained acidic soils. There are 15 native tree and shrub species in North America.They have a shinny leaf and pink flowers and have a average height of 2 to 6 feet, but can reach heights of 12 feet. Is susceptible to leaf spot when stressed and does bad in over watered areas.

      • George Rogers

        January 30, 2014 at 9:20 am

        Hi Keith, Thanks for the context–that is helpful. I always wondered why you so seldom see Fetterbush in landscapes.

  4. Phil Rautenkranz

    January 30, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    I like coco plum because its a native, and it makes a great thick slow growing hedge. Easy to maintain.

    • George Rogers

      January 30, 2014 at 4:35 pm

      I like it because I’m a pyromaniac.

  5. Steve

    February 5, 2014 at 11:40 am

    Lyonias rock, I love ’em. I noticed in my “hikings” that L. fruticosa (Staggerbush) flowers are fragrant during the day, smelling slightly of lilac. I’ve never snorted L. lucida (fetterbush), but I wonder if it is fragrant at night rather than the day (if at all). That would certainly support the moth pollination science.

    There is a long history of botanical confusion between L. fruticosa and L. ferruginea (rusty lyonia). L. ferruginea doesn’t make it as far south as Florida’s SE coast. Leaves and plant habit are similar, but L. fruticosa leaves reduce in size toward the inflorescence, whereas L. ferruginea leaves stay the same size.

  6. George Rogers

    February 5, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    We must go sniff Fetterbush at midnight. That Lyonia fruticosa (Staggerbush)—Rusty Lyonia confusion is a pain, isn’t it? I enounter it often, because L. fruticosa has that rusty look. That error is on a par with calling a Bullfrog a “Green Tree Frog” because the B.F. happens to be green.

  7. Suellen Granberry-Hager

    February 6, 2014 at 10:43 am

    I did some reading on L. fruticosa and L. ferruginea (The Shrubs and Woody Vines of Florida by Gil Nelson) and checked the Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants website. The rusty colored Lyonia we see here is most certainly L. fruticosa. But the rusty colored Lyonia I saw in Charlotte County during the Florida Master Naturalist class could be either L. fruticosa or L. ferruginea. The website does not have vouchered specimens from Charlotte County, but it does show vouchered specimens from Manatee County (a little northwest of Charlotte) and from Highlands and Glades counties (just east of Charlotte). From my reading I learned that L. fruticosa bears flowers on twigs of this season’s growth, has scales on the undersides of the leaves that are of a single uniform size, rarely has revolute leaf margins, and has terminal leaves that are smaller than the leaves growing lower on the stem (as Steve noted). L. ferruginea bears flowers on the previous season’s twigs, has scales on undersides of the leaves that are of two different sizes (when viewed with magnification), and often has revolute leaf margins. We saw two Lyonia species, one with pink flowers (L. lucida) and the rusty one with white flowers (could be L. ferruginea or L. fruticosa). Next time I should whip out my magnifying glass to check the scales.

  8. Steve

    February 10, 2014 at 9:37 am

    While at the IRC (Institute for Regional Conservation), we conducted an exhaustive research project attempting to asses the status of plants within Florida’s ten southernmost counties (including Charlotte County). If you go to the link to our data on L. ferruginea here: You will see that it has erroneously been recorded for many South Florida sites. We list it as possibly extirpated (locally extinct) in Glades County, due to development, however that county, along with Charlotte County, have not been as well “botanized”, and may occur in both locations, but have never been documented with a specimen as you point out.
    Using the Atlas of Vascular Plants of Florida ( advanced search function you can find out all kinds of data. A total of 889 plant species have been documented for Charlotte County (15 years ago it was closer to 600). Of those, 750 plants are native to Florida. To make a comparison, neighboring Lee County, which is well researched over time by visiting botanists, has 1306 plant species documented, with 948 of them being native. The county with the most plants (and most native plants) in Florida is Miami-Dade County. 1702 plants have been documented, of which 1069 are native. Florida has 4294 plants documented, of which 2867 are native (so Miami-Dade has (or had) over 37% of Florida’s native flora!
    A major problem with using this Atlas when determining whether a species is native to a particular county or not, is that many native plants have been cultivated and introduced outside their historic native ranges. A perfect example of this is the Sycamore tree (Platanus occidentalis) a Florida native that is widely cultivated in the state. Here is a map of its Florida occurrences: You will notice that there is a jump from north Florida to Highlands and Lee County. These aren’t natural occurrences, have been documented recently, and are examples of a plant species spreading from local cultivation. The Atlas still lists it as native for those counties however.

    • George Rogers

      February 10, 2014 at 11:55 am

      Thank you Steve, a ton to ponder there for sure. The cultivated-relocated phenomenon always nags the back of mind in a few ways, especially as molecular genetics gets better and better at resolving subtle patterns of genetic relationships and variation within species. We learn more and more that a “species” is not a single monolithic entity, but rather a fluid mosaic streaming down through time, sort of like a river has its subtle currents, eddies, diversions, oxbows, and tributaries. Of coruse we’ll never stop relocating native plants for landscape purposes—hey, I’m all for it! But it bugs me some to see botanical gardens propagate and reintroduce (or give away as membership gifts) some of the plants with the most subtle and precious delicate geographic-genetic subtleties…rare and endangered species. Somehow I tihnk in extended time it might be better to kinda leave those be. A lizard representing a rare disjunct species in one Missouri glade is not exactly the same as a representative of the “same” species 80 miles away isolated on a different glade.

      But that is wandering off-topic sort of.

      The species numbers in FL are mind-boggling, not to mention M-D County. We ought to kick everyone out and let the plants take over. Life was so much easier in Michigan where you can learn the entire flora (except Carex) in an afternoon.

  9. Keith Rossin

    February 13, 2014 at 11:20 am

    I wonder the same thing since they are a native plant and seem to not have many pest problems but on top of that have a brilliant flower.

  10. George Rogers

    February 13, 2014 at 11:49 am

    It would be interesting to somehow (!?) set up a statistical study of pest problems: native vs. exotic. I know, a LOT of variables to control, but could sort of be done with lots of data.


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