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Bougainvillea Vines

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The white true flowers of bougainvillea vines are overshadowed by bracts.

The white objects are the true flowers of these bougainvillea vines, although they are overshadowed by the showy bracts.

David Beaulieu

Plant Taxonomy of Bougainvillea:

"Bougainvillea" doubles as a genus name in plant taxonomy and, de facto, as a common name. When using it as a common name, I do not capitalize.

Plant Type:

Bougainvillea plants are woody vines, although they often behave more like shrubs. The foliage of these tropical flowers is usually evergreen in warm climates, but leaves will sometimes drop if watering has been insufficient.

Characteristics:

These vines can attain a height and spread of 15-40 feet and contain thorns. What appears to be the flower on bougainvillea plants is actually a foliar structure referred to as a "bract." The flower, technically, is much smaller and not nearly as eye-catching (it's off-white to yellow in color). Poinsettias, another tropical, similarly depend on bracts for their appeal. The bracts come in colors of red, pink, purple and yellow.

Planting Zones for Bougainvillea Vines:

Indigenous to South America, bougainvillea vines grow best in zones 9-11.

Sun and Soil Requirements for Bougainvillea:

Vines will often blossom most profusely if grown in full sun; however, they will tolerate light shade (and may even crave it in especially hot climates). Grow them in a well-drained soil. They will perform better in a soil with plenty of humus and a soil pH that is acidic.

Uses in Landscaping:

Bougainvillea plants are often seen growing against walls in hot climates, such as in the Mediterranean or in Southern California. However, these vines often need help in climbing, so provide a trellis or train them via espalier. In fact, if unsupported, they may just sprawl across the ground in some cases and function as a groundcover. If you wish to treat them as shrubs, they can be used in foundation beds.

Those who live in cold climates may treat the vines as annuals or bring them indoors during the cold weather and keep them as houseplants until summer returns. I live in zone 5 and have seen them for sale here in hanging baskets (a backyard fence festooned on the inside with such hanging baskets could suggest a Mediterranean look, with a little help).

Care for Bougainvillea:

Although relatively a drought-resistant plants, bougainvillea will perform better if watered sufficiently, especially in terms of blooming. Prune the vines after they've finished blooming. Don't spare the pruners and spoil these aggressive vines: they enjoy a good pruning.

Varieties of Bougainvillea:

As noted above, "Bougainvillea" refers, technically, to a genus of vines, not to a specific vine. There are many species within the genus. Two of the better-known are:

  • Bougainvillea spectabilis
  • Bougainvillea glabra

The latter are sometimes referred to by the common name, "paper flowers."

Meaning of the Name, "Bougainvillea":

The name derives from Louis Antoine de Bougainville (1729-1811), a French navigator. A botanist sailing with Bougainville discovered bougainvillea plants when their ship put in along the coast of Brazil. I suppose the name of his superior officer was deemed as good a name as any by which to call the vine.

When confusion exists over how to pronounce the scientific names of plants, we can usually take refuge in the spiffier common names. Such is not the case, however, with "bougainvillea," where, as mentioned above, the botanical name doubles as a common name.

There are at least six legitimate ways to pronounce "bougainvillea." The first syllable can be pronounced either with a U sound or an O sound. Even after you've decided how to pronounce the first syllable, there are still three acceptable variations in how to pronounce "bougainvillea." For instance, if you choose the U sound for the first syllable, you can choose from among the following pronunciations:

  • boo-guhn-VIL-ee-uh
  • boo-guhn-VIL-yuh
  • boo-guhn-VEE-uh


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