Meet Mountain Fetterbush

April 24, 2008 at 1:40 am 5 comments

One day after work last week, I went hiking with Phifer. We decided to drive up gravel Brush Mountain Road and make a visit to the Audie Murphy Memorial off the Appalachian Trail. It is only 0.7 flat miles from the parking at the top of Brush Mountain to the Memorial.

I doubt anyone remembers, so I’m going to call myself out. Last year, I said that if I wasn’t with a young child, this particular hike would be “a waste of time.” Welp, I was wrong. Our outing last week was decidedly not a waste. In fact, I ended up finding it fairly educational.

Very early in our journey, I was in the middle of yammering on about something. Out of the corner of my eyes, I could see familiar shrubs pass by. Suddenly I lost my train of thought. I believe I may have even stopped talking in mid-sentence. There was something very unfamiliar about these familiar plants. They had white bell-shaped flowers.

You see, I had assumed it was mountain laurel. And any other time of the year, I probably would have uploaded pictures of those plants and tagged them on Flickr as “mountainlaurel” and never been none the wiser. But mountain laurel has different flowers– little compact stars before they open and then interesting pentagon-y things when they do. There is nothing bell-shaped about mountain laurel flowers.

Mountain Laurel
Mountain Laurel

Mountain Fetterbush
NOT Mountain Laurel

And so, the mystery began. What were these imposters? Well, I did my own frustrating research for a while and after looking at pictures of bladdernut, sparkleberry, a variety of silverbells and doghobble, an answer was still absent. So I pulled in the big guns:

Tony Airaghi (He studied horticulture in college)

I emailed him pictures. His response:

Hmmm, I’m not sure at the moment. It looks the same as the bushes out of my window at work.

I always assumed they were mountain laurel, but now that I’ve paid closer attention to them I don’t think that is what it is because of the small flowers.

Now Tony was intriqued enough to adopt the quest as his own. A few hours later, he had the answer:

Pieris floribunda

It was discovered on North Carolina’s Pilot Mountain on September 16, 1807 by a man named John Lyon. And as any good imposter would, Pieris floribunda has a number of aliases – Mountain Pieris, Mountain Andromeda and Mountain Fetterbush.

I may be 200 years behind John Lyon… but I still found my own discovery fulfilling.

…and definitely not a waste of time. 🙂

Additional Links
My Mountain Laurel Pictures on Flickr (How many of these are mistagged?!?)
More Pictures from our Audie Murphy Hike on Flickr
Smoky Mountain News: Lyon was among [Western North Carolina]’s notable botanist
The Nature Journal: Fetterbush delights with spring blooms, abundant foliage

Entry filed under: Appalachian Trail, Hiking, Tony Airaghi.

links for 2008-04-23 Is Wind Rocks the Hike for You?

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. geekhiker  |  April 24, 2008 at 9:04 pm

    No hike, no matter how small and easy or long and hard, is a waste of time, so long as one is out there. And thus the GeekHiker spoketh… 😉

  • 2. audie fan  |  April 26, 2008 at 2:12 am

    hi there,hope you said a prayer to our hero Audie while you were there. I hope to visit this summer. can u tell me about the parking area? can I pull in w/a trailer and turn around easily? my friend and I are going across country(our beautiful USA) and want to stop at Brush mt. thanks and happy trails

  • 3. TGAW  |  April 26, 2008 at 8:52 am

    @audie fan – Hmm…I’m not sure I would want to take a trailer up Brush Mountain Road– it is a thin, windy, steep gravel road for about three miles. That said, if you did to get to the top, it is cul-de-sacey and you will be able to turn around.

    If you don’t mind the hike, perhaps you’ll be better off going from the Appalachain Trail crossing VA-621. I think if you approach VA-621 from VA-311, it is paved your entire passage (going from VA-460, you would have to pass through a gravel section). There would be a small gravel parking lot next to the trailhead and since Craig’s Creek Road isn’t exactly the Autobahn, you should have plenty of free time to back out.

    From VA-621, I think it is about three miles and a 1500 foot ascent to the Memorial. (I’m not certain about the distance)

    More on the Audie Murphy Hike:

  • 4. McAfee’s Knob! « TGAW  |  April 27, 2008 at 10:41 pm

    […] Nature seemed to going out of its way to make sure I don’t forget about Pieris floribunda. Catawba Mountain was absolutely covered with it. How did I not notice this plant […]

  • 5. Prickley Pear Trail: First Blooms « TGAW  |  May 22, 2008 at 5:10 pm

    […] I found them blooming away. As an added bonus, the mountain laurel (real mountain laurel, not mountain pieris) was starting to flower as […]


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