Bougainvillea is a plant well known for its massive show of brightly colored continually blooming flowers. It is a tropical climbing vine that thrives in warm climates, flowering year-round. In colder temperatures bougainvillea blooms during the summer months and goes dormant in winter. This plant is native to South America and was imported to Europe in the 19th century.
Bougainvilleas are not native to cold temperature climates. There are more than 300 varieties of bougainvillea grown worldwide, all hybrids of 18 South American species recognized by botanists. Bougainvillea was formally classified by French botanist Philibert Commercon in 1768. By the early 19th century, bougainvillea was introduced to Europe and sold in nurseries across the continent and England. Specimens of the plant were soon exported to all the English colonies, including Australia.
Bougainvilleas are a woody vine that can grow from 3 to 35 feet in height and thrives in dry, hot climates. Cold temperatures below frost cause flowers and leaves to fall off. The flowers are small and white but surrounded by three to six bracts that create the flower look. The bracts are paper-thin in bright magenta, orange, purple or red color. The vine thorns are tipped in a black, waxy substance. Leaves are dark green and heart-shaped.
Bougainvilleas are grown for their flowers, which provide a continuous show during the growing season in cold temperatures. It is covered with flowers of red, orange, pink or purple. Flowers are sensitive to cold temperatures and will not bloom when frost arrives. The long arching vines and branches have thorns which are toxic to the touch, causing a mild rash. It can be pruned to stand alone or grow on a wall or trellis.
Cold temperatures in northern climates cause the bougainvillea to go dormant in wintertime, but do not kill the plant. In the Mediterranean climates and in countries below the equator, bougainvillea provides massive displays of bright flowers year round. They are used extensively in landscaping because their bloom cycle is every three to four weeks. They are trained as climbing baskets for indoor use where cold temperatures prevail in winter.
Bougainvillea can be cultivated in cold temperatures. It can be overwintered in a basement where there is low light. Night temperatures should stay above 60 degrees Fahrenheit if plants are indoors. Daytime temperatures can reach 100 F and above with no bad effects on the plant. They need at least five hours per day of direct sunlight in the growing season to achieve maximum bloom.