Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Plant profile: Watsonia

Plants come in a huge variety of forms – shrubs, vines, trees and so on. I have a fondness for tall, spiky types, and they get extra points if they have lovely flowers. Watsonias fit the bill – they have tall and spiky leaves, they flower in early spring when not much else is going on, they’re evergreen, perennial, and they don’t need much help to do well. They do like fairly rich soil, but aside from that they're a nice, tough plant.
They are well adapted to our Mediterranean climate, and grow from corms – you can divide them every 3-5 years and give them to friends. We got a big clump from Matt’s mum a year ago and it’s flowering with lovely lavender flowers for the first time now, in the left bed. I’m hoping to divide that clump in two next fall, and move the red and white clumps to better spots soon too.

Latin name: Watsonia ("watt-SO-nee-ee-ah")
Common name: Bugle Lily
Originally from: southern Africa
Blooms: In Spring long stalks hold up small lily-like flowers in lavender/pink, red, orange or white
Light: Full sun please!
Water: Rain is plenty.
Where to find in P. Garden: There’s a big clump of the lavender colored type in the red bed, and also a white and a red behind the Wrong Way sign. I don’t know the species we have, but hope to find out.

Watsonia is a genus in the Iridaceae family of 52 species from southern Africa named after Sir William Watson, an 18th century British botanist. The genus was introduced as a garden ornamental to Australia in 1907 and was widespread by the 1940s. Species are centered in the southwestern Cape of South Africa but extend north into Namaqualand and east into the summer rainfall areas of eastern South Africa, Swaziland, and Lesotho. Many are quite tall (4’+) with fans of sword-shaped leaves and spikes of showy (often many) flowers.

A few species have become aggressive weeds in Australia, New Zealand, and California, especially Watsonia meriana var. bulbillifera.

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