Toxic or Not?

Donna Winter (Class of 2016) shared this photograph of the bell-shaped flowers (urceolate) of fetterbush that she took at the south Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area on 1-4-2020 on a walk that she, Gayle Lafferty (Class of 2012), Terry Greene (Class of 2019), and Janice Broda led for the Eugenia Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society.  Donna noted that fetterbush is said to be very toxic by some sources.

How toxic?  University of Florida and the U.S. Forest Service characterize this plant as toxic to cattle and horses.  Its sap, they say, can cause irritation or a rash when it contacts human skin.  Fetterbush is a member of the heath family, Ericaeae.  These resources note that fetterbush is not as toxic as some other plants in this family.

The North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox says that this plant “has high severity poison characteristics”, especially for “sheep, goats, cattle, and horses … in late winter or early spring when other forage is not available”.  It names andromedotoxin, which lowers blood pressure and is present in plants in the heath family, as the causative agent.  This website says that fetterbush does not cause contact dermatitis.

It is commonly called fetterbush because it impeded (fettered) the progress of explorers.  Shiny lyonia, another common name for this plant, refers to its shiny leaves.  Its genus name, Lyonia, honors John Lyon (1765 – 1814), a gardner in Pennsylvania and Tennessee.  The species name, lucida, means clear (think lucid) and references its clear leaf margins.

It is pollinated by native bees, and flowers throughout the year in this part of Florida.  Its fruit is a 5-sided dry capsule …

Its tiny seeds are consumed by granivorous birds and can be present at the same time as flowers.

Poisonous?  Probably for humans and certainly for horses, cattle, likely dogs, and other animals if consumed in large quantities.  Please don’t eat the Lyonia.


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