Staggerbush (Coastalplain Staggerbush) Lyonia fruticosa
Fetterbush, Lyonia lucida (In other regions the name “Fetterbush” applies to different species.)
“Fettered” and “staggering” describe John and George’s web site development process (www.floridagrasses.org), 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.
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.
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.
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.
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