Lyonia lucida, Fetterbush1

Michael G. Andreu, Melissa H. Friedman, Mary McKenzie, and Heather V. Quintana 2

Family

Ericaceae, heath family.

Genus

Lyonia is named after John Lyon (1765-1814), a Scottish man who worked in the gardens of Pennsylvania and Tennessee.

Species

The species name, lucida, stems from the Latin word lucens, which means "glittering, shining, clear."

Common Names

Fetterbush, Shiny Lyonia

The common name "fetterbush" refers to the growth habit of this shrub, because it tends to restrict or "fetter" the movement of humans or animals when it grows in abundance. The name "shiny lyonia" refers to this plant's shiny leaves.

Description

This native evergreen shrub is found along margins of damp swamp lands and ponds as far north as Virginia, south to Florida, and west to Louisiana. It grows best in full sun to partial shade and can reach heights of 3 to 5 feet. The oval leaves are simple and alternately arranged with a leathery and glabrous texture, and smooth, entire margins. A major vein encircles each leaf just inside the edge, and a distinct ridge occurs around the lower side of the leaf margin. When young, leaves are a coppery color and as they mature become a darker green, reaching lengths of 1 to 2 inches. Twigs are brown and strongly angular, and plants usually grow with a multi-stemmed trunk. Flowers are bell-shaped, range in color from white to pink, and are approximately ½ inch long. Blooms are fragrant and appear as unbranched, elongated inflorescences that flourish in the late winter and early spring. Fruits are approximately 1/3-inch-long capsules that dry to brown and split open to release the seeds at maturity.

Figure 1. Leaves and flowers of Lyonia lucida.
Figure 1.  Leaves and flowers of Lyonia lucida.
Credit: Mary Keim, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Figure 2. Close-up of an individual leaf of Lyonia lucida showing the vein running along the leaf margin.
Figure 2.  Close-up of an individual leaf of Lyonia lucida showing the vein running along the leaf margin.
Credit: CA Floristics, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Figure 3. Leaves and dried fruit of Lyonia lucida as they appear in the wintertime.
Figure 3.  Leaves and dried fruit of Lyonia lucida as they appear in the wintertime.
Credit: Homer Edward Price, CC BY 2.0

Allergen

While many plants in the Lyonia genus are poisonous if ingested, Lyonia lucida is not known to be poisonous. However, many Lyonia spp. can cause irritation or a rash if sap comes into contact with the skin. Therefore, most Lyonia spp. are considered moderately to highly allergenic.

Applications

Cultural

It has been documented that Seminole Indians used the wood of fetterbush to make bowls for their tobacco pipes.

Horticultural

This shrub makes a great addition to wetter landscapes. Its showy flowers add a splash of color in the late winter and early spring. In addition, shiny lyonia is easy to maintain, making it a desirable addition to the landscape.

Wildlife

Because many members of the genus Lyonia are poisonous, they should not be planted in or near areas used by livestock.

References

Austin, D. F. (2004). Florida ethnobotany. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

Gledhill, D. (1989). The names of plants (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge.

Godfrey, R. K. (1988). Trees, shrubs, and woody vines of Northern Florida and adjacent Georgia and Alabama. Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press.

Haehle, R. J. and J. Brookwell. (2004). Native Florida plants: Low-maintenance landscaping and gardening. Lanham, MD: Taylor Trade Publishing.

Miller, J. H. and K. V. Miller. (2005). Forest plants of the Southeast and their wildlife uses (Revised ed.). Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.

Nelson, G. (1994). The trees of Florida: A reference and field guide. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press.

Ogren, T. L. (2000). Allergy-free gardening: The revolutionary guide to healthy landscaping. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press.

Osorio, R. (2001). A gardener's guide to Florida's native plants. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida.

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. (n.d.). PLANTS database. Retrieved from http://plants.usda.gov/index.html

Footnotes

1. This document is FOR 261, one of a series of the School of Forest Resources and Conservation Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date June 2010. Reviewed June 2019. Visit the EDIS website at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu for the currently supported version of this publication.
2. Michael G. Andreu, associate professor of forest systems, School of Forest Resources and Conservation; Melissa H. Friedman, former biological scientist, School of Forest Resources and Conservation; Mary McKenzie, former research assistant, School of Forest Resources and Conservation; and Heather V. Quintana, former research assistant, School of Forest Resources and Conservation; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.