Watsonia marginata is a very pretty plant, with attractive foliage and gorgeous spikes of cup-shaped pink or white flowers. It is easily distinguished from other species of Watsonia by both by its leaves and its flowers. Watsonia marginata flowers are cup-shaped and Ixia-like compared to its tubular-flowered relatives.
This watsonia is a deciduous, winter-growing, summer-dormant corm. The leaves appear in autumn, and stand one-third to two-thirds as high as the flower spike. Towards the end of their growing season, each corm sends up one straight, tall flower spike. The spike has a large number of short branches, each carrying a few flowers. The flowering season extends for about 4 weeks during spring to early summer (Sept. to Nov.). Flower colour is variable, occurring in shades of mauve, pink or white, even maroon, and the centre of each flower is marked with magenta and white. The fruit of Watsonia marginata is a small, rounded, woody capsule of several angular brownish seeds with prominent membranous ridges.
Watsonia marginata occurs in the winter-rainfall region of South Africa in the area between the Bokkeveld Mountains near Nieuwoudtville in the north to the Cape Peninsula and the Caledon district in the south, and is virtually restricted to areas of complete summer drought. It can be found growing from near sea level to middle elevations in the mountains, in stony clay soils and sometimes in seasonally marshy or temporary seep areas in sandy soils.
The genus Watsonia was named in 1752 by Philip Miller of the Chelsea Physic Garden after his friend Sir William Watson 1715-87, a physician and naturalist. The specific name marginata is Latin for marginate (having a margin) and alludes to the thickened leaf margins. Watsonia marginata was first collected in 1773 and described in 1782. The Afrikaans common name kanol is a phonetically corrupted version of the original Dutch work ‘knol’ meaning a corm, and is applied to many cormous species although mainly to species of Watsonia.
Watsonia marginata belongs in the Iridaceae (iris family), a family of roughly 70 genera and 1800 species which occur all over the world. Other members of this family well known to gardeners and florists alike include Iris, Gladiolus, Freesia and Dietes. The genus Watsonia is one of the larger genera in this family, yet occurs only in southern Africa. It contains 52 species, 34 of which are concentrated in the winter-rainfall region, in the Western Cape, Northern Cape and Eastern Cape, 21 in the summer-rainfall regions of KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Swaziland and the Eastern Cape, and 1 species in Madagascar.