Staggerbush_jpgThis family (Ericaceae) commonly called the Heath family consists of 103 genera and 3,350 species of shrubs, lianas, and small trees; found in temperate, cool and subtropical regions and in tropical mountains.  Twenty-five to 35 species are native to the United States.  Members of this family are of great horticultural and gastronomic interest, including Rhododendron, Azaleas, Heathers and Cranberries, Blueberries and Bilberries.  The family name “Heath” is from the Greek eike,and the Latin Erica. The genus name Lyonia was given to this group of plants by Thomas Nuttall in honor of John Lyon, and early American botanist.  The species name, mariana, means “of Maryland”. The name “Maryland” refers to Queen Mary I of England. The Common Name, Staggerbush, is in reference to the toxicity of the plant and its effect on grazing livestock.  The foliage is said to poison lambs and calves. Staggerbush usually inhabits dry, sandy areas, but will also occur in wet places such as bogs and pine barren swamps.  The flowers are borne on leafless shoots from the previous year’s growth and dry capsules persist on these leafless stems until the following spring.



Lyonia mariana






Woody Shrub


3 to 6 feet


September and October, persisting on twigs


Rhode Island to Florida and west to Texas ~ Mostly on Coastal Plain in New Jersey, infrequent on Piedmont


Late May to late June


Leaves elliptic to oblong, alternate, simple, commonly blunt-tipped, no teeth, yellowish green above and lighter below ~ Stems smooth, orange-yellow, round or slightly ridged, bark light gray, terminal bud absent ~ Flowers, bell-like, 5 parts, fused, tubular, white to rose, oblong, in clusters of 3-6 ~ Fruit oval capsule, dark orange-red to gray, many seeded