Fetterbush is a handsome evergreen shrub with shiny dark green leaves and sweetly scented flowers. The thick leathery leaves are elliptic to oval, alternately arranged, 1-3 in (2-8 cm) long, and about half as wide. There is a conspicuous vein that runs around the leaf blade just inside and parallel to the margin. The flowers are little bell shaped jewels, about a half inch (12 mm) long, borne in 10-15 flower clusters from the leaf axils. They come out on wood of the previous season, before new growth begins in early spring. Fetterbush flowers are usually pink, but some are nearly white and some nearly red. Although they may be small, the flowers are in showy clusters, very fragrant and they last for several weeks. The bushes average around 3-6 ft (1-2 m) tall, but can sometimes get as tall as 12-15 ft (4-5 m). Fetterbush often grows in thickets and individual bushes can have multiple stems.
Location Lyonia lucida is a common understory shrub in wet savannas, bogs, cypress swamps, pine flatwoods and even dry scrubby habitats throughout the southeastern coastal plain from Virginia though the Florida peninsula and west to Louisiana. It also occurs in Cuba.
Fetterbush should do well anywhere blueberries do well. They need an acidic soil. Light: Partial shade to full sun. Moisture: Fetterbush grows naturally in moist to fairly dry sandy soils. Once established, it should need no supplemental watering. Hardiness: USDA Zones 7-10. Propagation: Fetterbush can be propagated from stem cuttings in spring.
Fetterbush is adaptable and is found growing in both wet and dry soils. It is a good choice for planting at the edges of lakes and ponds that experience wide changes in water levels adapting to both flood and drought.
Fetterbush is a very showy little shrub when in flower and during the rest of the year, too. It deserves more attention from gardeners who like to use native plants. Use fetterbush in hedges or in mixed shrub plantings. Your best bet, though, is if it's already growing in your landscape. If you are that lucky, you can "release" the plants by trimming away competing vegetation and opening up the canopy above the fetterbushes. (Especially if the canopy is dominated by large ecological hogs like laurel oak or water oak, which grow fast, rot out, die young, and tend to fall over on things.)
I love the smell of fetterbush flowers; they smell like honey to me and I always wondered whether "gallberry" (Ilex glabra ) honey - so popular in the South - was really made from the flowers of fetterbush, which seems to be always growing alongside gallberry. Well, I was wrong. Apparently honey bees cannot effectively harvest nectar from fetterbush flowers because their tongues are not long enough to get down inside the flower. Native bumblebees pollinate the fetterbush flowers. But the honeybees really do make an outstanding honey from gallberry! Maybe the smell of the nearby fetterbush inspires them.