Fetterbush

Lyonia lucida
Family: Ericaceae

Natural History
Fetterbush in bloom
Photo credit: Niels Proctor, University of Florida

Fetterbush is a showy and handsome evergreen shrub found in bogs, bays, swamps, wet woodlands, and low pinelands. It thrives in the sandy, acidic soil of the Coastal Plain. Fetterbush grows between Louisiana and Florida and north to Virginia.

The pinkish flowers are an important source of nectar. White-tailed deer occasionally browse on this plant.

Fetterbush is distinguished by its smooth leaf surfaces. The leaves are leathery and pointed at the tip. The oval-shaped flowers are ¼" long, occur in clusters, and bloom between March and June on branches from the previous season. The flower stalks are up to ½" long and slightly hairy.

Five species of Lyonia occur in the southeast. Fetterbush may be mistaken for one of these species, maleberry (Lyonia ligustrina). Both plants are similar in height and leaf description; however, maleberry is deciduous while fetterbush is persistent. Also, maleberry flowers are white and fetterbush has pink or pink-white flowers.


 

Identifying Characteristics

Habitat: It grows on a wide variety of sites, from moist and shady to open and dry but is most often found near or in wet sites. It can be found growing in flatwood forests, savannas, bogs, and near cypress ponds.
Size/Form: Fetterbush is an arching, sprawling shrub that measures 3' to 9' tall. It has branching stems near the base and alternately arranged twigs farther outward.
Stem: New stems are red or light green but they gradually turn brown with age. Both new and old stems are covered with black scales.
Leaves: The leaves are simple, alternate, and persistent. They are usually 1" to 3" long, 1" to 2" wide, and elliptical in outline. The upper leaf surface is shiny green and the lower leaf surface is dull lighter green with tiny black spots. The leaf margin is entire with a parallel vein along the outside edge. The margin also has a distinct ridge along the lower side and the petiole is ribbed where it attaches to the twig.
Fruit: The fruit is a five-chambered, oval-shaped capsule, ¼" wide. The tiny, brown capsules occur in clusters that surround the stem.

 

Images

Click on any thumbnail to see a photo. Use left and right arrows to navigate. Use "esc" to exit the lightbox.

 

Learn More