Watsonia latifolia

N.E.Br. ex Oberm .
Family : Iridaceae (the Iris family)
Common names : Broad-leaved watsonia (Eng.) ; sidvwa (Swazi)


This is an attractive plant with very showy maroon-red flowers that make it stand out on hillsides amongst rocks.

Watsonia latifolia is an erect perennial herb that grows up to 1.5 m tall. It has a deep-seated short, solid, vertical underground stem covered with rough fibres, up to 60 mm in diameter.

Leaves 4–6, broad, lanceolate, 30–70 cm long, 4.7 cm wide or more, margins yellow, slightly thickened, midrib well defined in some plants but not well defined in others, arranged like a fan, some basal, those uppermost sheathing the stem, surface flat.

Plant in flower

Inflorescence a spike that overtops the leaves, simple, rarely branched, many-flowered; outer bracts about 25 mm long, lower ones clasping the stem; inner bracts slightly smaller. Flowers blood-red, 60–80 mm long, curved; perianth tube with the basal part erect, exserted from the bracts, about 20 mm long, the arched part horizontal, 18–20 mm long, about 8 mm wide (when dried); tepals lanceolate, about 20 mm long, 5–8 mm wide and ascending or spreading. Filaments attached to the tube where it becomes wider, 28–35 mm long, arched below the upper tepal, exserted from the tube; anthers about 10 mm long and violet. Style divided and overtopping the anthers when mature, arching over the filaments. Flowering takes place between December and February.

Capsules oblong-fusiform (spindle-shaped), 14–20 mm long, about as long as the bracts.

Conservation status
The SANBI Threatened Species List status for Watsonia latifolia is Least Concern (Raimondo et al. 2009) because, though localized, it is not exploited commercially in South Africa. It also seems not to have made its way into the muthi trade, but one publication mentions that it is used medicinally.

Distribution and habitat
Watsonia is a genus of 52 species restricted to southern Africa, in summer- and winter- rainfall regions, where it has a wide distribution from the mountains and coastal belt of the Western and Eastern Cape to the Drakensberg escarpment of Swaziland, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, Free State and Lesotho. It is also found in Northern Cape and Limpopo.

Watsonia latifolia is restricted to a small area of the summer-rainfall region of southern Africa, in southeastern Mpumalanga and localized in western Swaziland and northern KwaZulu-Natal. It is found usually at high altitudes, above 1 800 m but: SABONET Report No. 41 records altitudes from 641 m up. It occurs in open montane grassland in rocky soil or around the bases of granite outcrops.

Derivation of name and historical aspects
‘Watsonia' was named for Sir William Watson, a British scientist who helped introduce the Linnaean system of plant classification to the UK, and ‘ latifolia' means broad-leaved, referring to the unusually broad leaves that are characteristic of this species.

This species belongs to a group of watsonias in eastern southern Africa that have narrow tubular, cylindrical flowers that produce ample nectar and are believed to be pollinated by honey-eating birds or butterflies.

Uses and cultural aspects
Watsonia latifolia is only known from very few areas of southern Africa; as a result, it has only two common names and not much is known about its cultural aspects and uses. It is a very attractive plant that can do well in gardens and parks.

Leaves and flower spike

Growing Watsonia latifolia

Watsonia species are generally very easy to grow and to maintain in gardens, and this species is no exception. It can easily be propagated from seed or planted by corms and also transplants well. If planted by corms, they should be planted 40–60 mm deep and watered regularly. It should be planted in full sun, in well drained soil to ensure that the roots are never too wet, approximately four months before flowering time. After sprouting, it should be kept moist.

References and further reading

  • Goldblatt, P. 1989. The genus Watsonia. Annals of Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens 19.
  • Kirstern, K. (introducer). 2004. Flora, a gardener's encyclopedia. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
  • Leistner, O.A. (ed.) 2000. Seed plants of southern Africa: families and genera. Strelitzia 10. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
  • Obermeyer,A.A, 1962. Iridaceae. Bothalia,Vol.9 :pp 115-116
  • Pienaar, K. 1985. Grow South African plants . Struik, Cape Town. Pooley, E. 1998. A field guide to wild flowers of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Region. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
  • Raimondo, D., Von Staden, L., Foden, W., Victor, J.E., Helme, N.A., Turner, R.C., Kamundi, D.A. & Manyama, P.A. (eds). 2009. Red List of South African plants 2009. Strelitzia 25. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.


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Mkhipheni Ngwenya
KwaZulu-Natal Herbarium
September 2012
To find out if SANBI has seed of this or other SA species, please email our seedroom.
This page forms part of the South African National Biodiversity Institute's plant information website www.plantzafrica.com