The Bugle lily, also called Beatrice watsonia, is an evergreen perennial, unlike montbretia which dies back to the ground in the winter. It is native to South Africa and is not drought or frost resistant but makes a stunning addition to a mixed border or to grow as a specimen plant in a pot. It is also suitable for coastal gardens.
Watsonia pillansii forms a large clump with upright, lance-shaped leaves and spikes of orange tubular flowers. It needs a sunny, well-drained situation and regular water to prevent it from drying out. The flower spikes attract lots of pollinating insects into the garden and make very good cut flowers.
After flowering small, brown seed capsules form containing oval seeds with short wings at each end. Although dispersed by the wind, the weight of the seed ensures it doesn't travel very far and in the wild the Bugle lily will form very large colonies.
Propagation is by seed or the clumps can be divided in spring. Lift the whole plant and remove the bottom layer of corms. Transplant the newer corms that form in layers on top of the old ones. Once transplanted, the new clumps should be left undisturbed for at least five years.
The genus is named after Sir William Watson (1715-87) a physician and naturalist from London and the species is named after Neville Pillans (1884-1964), a Cape Town botanist who worked at the Bolus Herbarium.
The species W. Knynana has lilac or purple flowers.
The Bugle lily can survive fast moving fires, even though the top growth may be burnt to the ground. It is renowned for its ability to resprout quickly and flower prolifically after brush fires.