Bougainvillea (Bougainvillea spp) is a woody vine desirable for its colorful, showy appearance. These evergreen plants can be grown as a sprawling vine, compact shrub or trained to grow on one trunk, like a tree. Bougainvilleas thrive in warm, humid environments and are a favorite with home gardeners who want to add a splash of color to a bright, sunny location in the landscape.
The bougainvillea plant was named after the French explorer Admiral Louis de Bougainvillea, according to Texas A&M University. The admiral sailed to South America in 1768. He discovered the plants in Brazil, and brought it back to Europe, where it quickly became a garden favorite.
Bougainvilleas have heart-shaped, deeply green, evergreen leaves, although some may drop in the winter if it gets too cold. The canes are long and stiff, and covered with thorns. Some species can get up to 50 feet long or tall, if not pruned. Bougainvilleas can become sprawling and leggy-looking, so some home gardeners prune the canes to keep the plant in a neat, mounded form, notes Floridata. The flowers are small, inconspicuous and white. They are, however, surrounded by large, thin, brightly colored bracts that average around 2 inches long.
Bougainvillea plants are tropical in nature. They require large amounts of bright, direct sunlight to thrive and for best blooming, according to Louisiana State University. Bougainvilleas are heavy feeders and should be fertilized regularly (every other week or more often, if blooms start to fade) with a balanced (10-10-10) fertilizer that includes iron. These tropical plants also do best when the soil is not too wet. Let the soil dry out down to 2 inches or so before watering your bougainvillea. These plants will only grow outdoors year-round in U.S. Department of Agriculture Zones 9b through 11. In colder climates, they can be grown in containers and brought indoors for the winter.
Bougainvilleas are almost never bothered by insect pests, according to Texas A&M University. These hardy plants are not known to suffer from serious diseases, either. If you live in a tropical or subtropical location and want a fast-growing, inexpensive, easy-care flowering plant, try a bougainvillea.
California Gold has glowing, yellow bracts. Vickie is one of the few bougainvilleas with variegated leaves. Barbara Karst likes hot locations and will reward you with bright red bracts. Sundown has a wonderful, apricot color reminiscent of a sunset. It is also one of the most vigorous types of bougainvillea and will bloom well if kept fed. If you want a smaller, less-thorny bougainvillea, choose any of the cultivars in the B. glabra species.