In the spring the Okefenokee Swamp shrubbery is decorated with delicate rows of tiny pink and white bells. These small flowers are of the Lyonia bush. Although they look and smell like a sweet Valentine’s Day treat, they haven’t always been thought of so fondly, as revealed by a few of their common names: fetterbush, staggerbush and hurrah bush.
Fetterbush grows thickly and is often entangled with other shrubs and vines, such as the well-armed greenbrier. Being so thick, it fetters the legs of anyone attempting cross the swamp on foot. Fetters were prisoners’ iron shackles in a less politically correct age. In fact, when his weakness was exploited, the Biblical strongman Samson was “bound in fetters of brass to grind in the prison house.”
Lyonia’s other common name, Hurrah bush, comes from the exclamatory shout for joy made by the swamp adventurer that finally makes it through the thickets and staggers into a clearing. There are several narrow canoe trails lined with thickets that my daughter despises paddling through. For it seems that not only is Fetterbush tipped with cute little flowers, but also with creepy little spiders waiting to jump into your kayak!
Schoettle, Taylor. A Naturalist’s Guide to the Okefenokee Swamp. Darien, Sea to Sea Printing and Publishing, 2019.
iNaturalist observation: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/45350400