What is Watsonia?

Kay Blynn

Watsonia is a member of the Iridaceae or Iris family of flowering plants. Its common name is the Bugle Lily. There are 52 species of Watsonia, which is native to South Africa. Watsonia has a corm root structure with erect stems that average 2-3 feet (about 0.6 to 0.9 m) tall. They produce bugle shaped flowers in a variety of colors. Watsonia was introduced to Australia as a decorative garden plant in the early 1900s and is now listed as an invasive species in that country.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

The Watsonia was named after 18th century scientist and naturalist Sir William Watson. Often confused for an Iris, and similar in appearance to a Gladiola, the flowers of a Bugle Lily were originally red, pink, and white. Over the years, breeders have developed several varieties of Watsonia with orange, yellow, and coral colored blooms.

The Watsonia is a corm plant. A corm is specialized plant stem, which grows underground, storing water and nutrients for the plant. Roots grow off the corm during the growing season. During the growing season, the corm can shrink as the plant grows and used its resources.

Watsonia can be propagated through seed, but it can take several years for the seeds to develop into usable plants. The easiest way to grow Watsonia is to break off a piece of the corm. The corms contain nodes which will develop into leaves, stems and buds, creating a new plant.

The plants prefer full sun and can tolerate hot weather. Watsonia reproduce quite quickly and will easily spread into empty spaces. Because the corms can be used as a water storage system, Watsonia can withstand unpredictable rainfall and dry conditions.

Introduced to Australian gardens in the 1900s, Watsonia now grows wild in many parts of that country, especially along rivers and seasonal wetlands. It is considered an invasive species in that it crowds out plants that are native to the continent. In large concentrations, it is considered a fire hazard, which can lead to wildfires. Conservation methods for removing Watsonia from the Australian landscape include using animals to graze on the plants. Cattle eat the young growth, and pigs can dig up and eat the corms.

Watsonia is also becoming an increasingly popular garden plant around the world. They should be planted in the fall to a depth of 4 inches (about 10 cm). Watsonia generally bloom in the spring and early summer.

The flower stems can become quite tall and heavy with blooms, so it is common practice to stake Watsonia. Stakes made of wood, plastic, or metal are placed next to the plant and the heavy stems are secured to the stakes holding them upright. Twine, coated wire, or any variety of specialized plant ties can be used to secure the stems to the stakes.

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