Bugle Lily (Watsonia)
The Watsonia genus, otherwise known as the Bugle Lily, has a lot of similarities to its close relative, the Gladioli. Both are in the Iris family and have an erect, spear like habit. The Watsonia however prefers wetter conditions during its growth period and will often be found on the edge of bog land or low lying parts of a garden.
Originating from Southern Africa, many of the 60 or so species have made their way to Australia since the mid 19th century. Prior to the Second World War, they were increasing steadily in popularity in the Australian garden with many new hybrids appearing in plant catalogues.
Their popularity was usurped in the 1950’s by the Gladioli for several reasons. Watsonia are taller plants than their rivals making them less suitable for pots or small gardens. There are also several weed species of Watsonia, the worst of which is W. bulbifer. As with any weed species, if a gardener spends time removing a large quantity from their land, they are unlikely to grow anything similar.
Watsonia hybridise readily from original species. They are mostly infertile, reproducing only through corm production. They show stronger colour and form than their wild counterparts, but subsequent cross breeding of the hybrids are usually weaker.
All flower some time from late spring to early summer in tones of pinks, reds and salmon. They make excellent cut flowers and in the garden, will flower for a long time with successive tube like flowers opening as the spike grows taller.
Provide plenty of water and feed with a high potassium fertiliser to bring out the best in the flowers which will open successively over a longer period than Gladdies.
Some species are dormant in late summer, others are evergreen so don’t be surprised if the plants start looking a bit sad after flowering. Watsonia are generally hardy plants with few pests or diseases attacking them. Snails and slugs occasionally eat the foliage and thrips can cause some damage to the flowers.
Six species of Watsonia are considered a serious weed the Southern states and in WA in particular. Large infestations are encroaching on natural bushland, out competing native vegetation. If you choose to grow this beautifully flowering plant, don’t collect samples from the roadside while travelling. Buy sterile hybrids from a nursery. The flowers will be greater and the weed risk will be less.