Named after Louis Antoine de Bougainville, the famed French explorer and discoverer of the plant during his circumnavigation of the globe in 1767, the bougainvillea is among the most beautiful of perennial vines grown in the United States. Originally from South America, these ornamentals are prized for their appealing and attractive foliage and especially for their blossoms, which are brightly colored, long-lasting and prolific.
Bougainvillea is a climbing, evergreen vine that has long, woody stems. The stems are covered with long, sharp spines. The leaves are heart shaped and 3 to 5 inches long. The most impressive part of the plant are the flowers. While the true flower of the plant is actually small tubular blooms, they are surrounded by three large, papery, vibrantly colored bracts, a type of specialized leaf. The bracts come in a range of colors from white to light and hot pinks, yellows and oranges, red and purples.
The bougainvillea is a climber and can reach to 40 feet in height. It tends to scramble to a certain height, then flop over, giving it a sometimes poorly manicured appearance. The plant grows rapidly and flowers all year long in warmer areas. The blossoms form in dense clusters. Each cluster usually lasts for around 4 to 6 weeks. In the United States, the plant grows well in hardiness zones 9 and 10. It can also be pruned to grow as an indoor potted plant under the proper conditions.
Bougainvillea require bright light and do best planted in full sun, although they can tolerate a little shade. The more light, the more blooms will form for a longer period of time. The plant flowers better when under stress. The soil should be acidic. The plant should be watered thoroughly at each watering and allowed to become slightly dry between waterings. If pot-grown, allow the plants to become root bound; they grow best in 5- to 10-gallon containers. The soil should be sandy loam that is well-draining. Bougainvillea can be easily propagated from cuttings.
Bougainvillea are grown as ornamentals and are often featured plants within the garden, due to their showy display of flamboyantly colored flowers. They are often grown in large containers and make an excellent accent to patio and poolside plantings. Bougainvillea can also be grown as houseplants and can even be trained as bonsai.
Pests and Disorders
For the most part, bougainvillea are relatively pest-free. Aphids, mealybugs and scale insects sometimes attack bougainvillea plants either indoors or out. Most problems with bougainvillea can be traced to environmental problems, such as insufficient or incorrect fertilization, overwatering or inadequate light or soil conditions. Occasionally, fungal or bacterial infections may affect the plant.