fresh flower


These spiky flowers offer versatile design applications.

by Steven W. Brown, AIFD

W. borbonica

1 TALL AND HANDSOME. Watsonia, pronounced wat-SOH-nee-uh, is a close relative to Gladiolus. Commonly known as bugle lilies, Watsonias have attractive linear foliage and gorgeous spikes of cup- or bugle-shaped florets. They grow from corms, each of which sends up one straight, tall flower spike to a height of 2 feet to 4 feet. Sometimes there are short branches closely pressed against the main axis of the flower stalk. Each Watsonia spike can have up to 50 densely packed florets.

2 DOCTOR DOCTOR. The genus Watsonia was named in 1752 by Philip Miller of London’s Chelsea Gardens after his friend Sir William Watson (1715-1787), a physician and naturalist. Watsonia is one of the largest genera in the Iridaceae (Iris family). Other members of this family include Irises, Gladioli, Freesias, Crocosmias, Crocuses and Ixias.

3 AROUND THE CAPE. There are more than 50 species and countless hybrids of Watsonias. Most are native to the Western Cape, Northern Cape and Eastern Cape of South Africa.

4 NICE WEATHER. The flowering season for Watsonias is from March through September. Watsonias are most readily available from domestic sources.

5 BUY THE BEST. Purchase Watsonias when the lower florets are showing color. If florets are too open, damage may occur during handling and processing. It’s better to buy early and develop the florets on site. Avoid purchasing bunches that show any sign of yellowing or rot.

6 KEEP 'EM UP. If Watsonias are shipped horizontally, they will show a geotropic (against gravity) response and begin to curve. Keep them upright to ensure straighter stems.

7 DECORATOR COLORS. The colors of Watsonias vary. Many cultivars have been developed in flesh pink, old rose, brick red, salmon and dusty pink. The centers of the flowers often are marked with magenta and white. There also are dwarf forms with pink or white flowers.

8 PROCESS FOR LIFE. Process Watsonias immediately upon arrival in the shop. Cut at least 1 inch off stems with a sharp knife or pruner, and remove lower foliage that will fall below the water line. Dip or place the stems into a properly prepared hydration solution, then place them into a warm flower-food solution. Allow flowers to hydrate in a floral cooler at 36 F to 46 F for at least two hours before designing with or selling them. Watsonias are ethylene sensitive, so make sure your flowers have been treated with an ethylene inhibitor at the grower level or during transportation.

9 A LONG STINT. When properly processed, Watsonias have a potential vase life of seven to 14 days. Remove faded florets and faded or yellowed foliage to ensure a fresh appearance. Arrangements should be placed in a cool area away from drafts, sun and heat sources. Be careful not to store Watsonias near fruit or other sources of ethylene.

10 DESIGN USES. Watsonias can be used in a wide range of designs including Western-line and parallel arrangements. A few stems in a vase can make a bold statement.

Steven W. Brown, AIFD, is a professor and department chair of horticulture and floristry at City College of San Francisco with 27 years of consulting and educational experience in the floral industry.

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