What is a Bougainvillea?

Felicia Dye

A bougainvillea is a type of flowering, tropical plant in the Nyctaginaceae family. There are believed to be between four and 18 different species in the bougainvillea genus. Various species of the plant are the official flowers of several places around the world, including cities in the Philippines and in California.

Woman with a flower
Woman with a flower

Discovery of the bougainvillea is often credited to Philbert Commercon. The French botanist supposedly found the plant in Brazil in 1768 while he was accompanying an explorer named Louis Antoine de Bougainvillea. Peru and Argentina are also believed to be native homes to the plant.

The plant is no longer confined to South America. It is a popular ornamental plant in many areas that have warm climates. Bougainvilleas can be found growing in places as varied as South Africa, Mexico, and Pakistan.

These woody vined plants come in a range of colors including red, purple, and yellow. These vibrant colors refer to the paper-like bracts and not the actual flower. The inner flower is almost always white.

This plant’s vines generally have thorns with waxy, black tips. A bougainvillea tends to be vigorous and generally grows between 3 and 39 feet (0.9 and 11.8 meters). It often claws its way over surrounding plants with its thorns and may smother those plants that are more delicate.

It is possible to have a bougainvillea as a houseplant. The plant has a natural tendency to climb, but it can be trained to live in a floor pot or a hanging pot. When it is planted in a container, clay pots are the most often recommended. The plants will likely require annual repotting, which can be a delicate process. Bougainvilleas typically have fine roots that do not intertwine to hold the soil together.

These plants can be evergreen or deciduous, depending on the climate and rainfall. A bougainvillea generally does not require excessive watering to produce flowers and is likely to do best if the soil is kept slightly dry. Overwatering can prevent the plant from flowering or even cause it to rot.

A bougainvillea usually grows rapidly and can produce flowers almost all year if the climate is warm enough and the soil is slightly moist and fertile. Pinching and pruning generally adds to successful growth. The best blooms often result from branches that are kept between 18 and 20 inches (45.7 and 50.8 cm). The plant generally blooms in cycles that range from four to six weeks.

Bougainvilleas tend to do best when exposed to full sunlight. Since they tend to be heavy feeders, these plants are typically more successful if they receive fertilizer on a regular basis. Some varieties require that old flowers be cut since they do not shed as many other plants do.

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