Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 553 Bougainvillea spp

Common Names: bougainvillea, paper flower Family: Nyctaginaceae (four-o'clock Family)
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salmon colored bougainvillea
It is the papery bracts that create bougainvilleas colorful display - here seen in salmon.


Big and rowdy, loud and lovely, this sprawling woody vine is colorful showboater wherever it is grown. It was named for Louis Antoine de Bougainville, a Frenchman who sailed around the world in 1767. I think it is good luck that the new continents were named for mapmaker Amerigo Vespuci or we might now be living in United States of Bougainvillica! Even though continents and countries were not named for him, Monsieur de Bougainville is immortalized in the genus name for a group of very spectacular flowering vines and shrubs.

The bougainvilleas are mostly evergreen or semi-evergreen dropping their leaves for a brief period in winter. Their woody, thorn-armored canes soar to great heights and then tend to flop over sprawling across whatever is adjacent. This can look rather sloppy so many gardeners trim their plants into shrubs removing the overly enthusiastically growing canes as they appear. The heart shaped leaves are rich green and 3-5 in (7.6-12.7 cm) long. There are several species and hybrids in cultivation. B. glabra is one that is great for container plantings and has smooth leaves and smaller and fewer thorns than its relatives. The leaves of B. spectablilis, another garden favorite are hairy beneath and this one is a huge sprawling plant that is perfect for arbors and draped along fences where it creates a security barrier by virtue of its thorns and dense twiggy growth.

Bougainvillea flowers are small yellow white waxy tubes that aren't very impressive. However they are surrounded by three 1-2 in (2.5-5.1 cm) long papery bracts and it is these that are responsible for the colorful displays for which this genus is famous. B. glabra is a smaller plant with less thorny canes and blooms prolifically from summer to autumn. The rampant grower B. spectabilis can rapidly reach 30 ft (9 m) while B. glabra stems grow no more than 20 ft (6 m) at best. The hybrid B. x buttiana (B. glabra x B. peruviana) is the source of many named cultivars. These are very vigorous growers that can climb to 40 ft (12.2 m) high and are smothered in color from summer to autumn.

The actual flowers are small and white against the showy purple bracts of this variety.


All of the Bougainvillea species are native to South America. For centuries gardeners in warm climates have grown this showy plant. The bougainvillea's brilliant color displays are enjoyed from Florida to California, from the south of France to southeast Asia to Australia and throughout it's native tropical America.


Likes rich loamy, well-drained soils but is tolerant and adapts to many soil types. Give light feedings three times a year. The bougainvilleas are salt tolerant with some protection behind the dune line. When grown in containers, keep the roots crowded for best flowering. In winter let container grown plants rest by reducing water and withholding fertilizer. Light: Bright sunny conditions are best. Moisture: Normal watering. If blossoming stops, let soil dry out to force more flowers. Tolerates short periods of drought. Hardiness: USDA Zones 9 - 11. B. glabra is a bit hardier - but you can count on frosts cutting both to the ground. Here in my Zone 8 garden they usually return in spring if well mulched and on the dryish side. Propagation: By cuttings in summer.


Use bougainvillea to decorate fences and arbors with explosions of color. Every Mediterranean style structure should have at least one bougainvillea guarding the entry or framing a window. Bougainvillea is a great vine for large containers to decorate hot patios and plazas. It can be trained as a shrub or clipped into shapes. Gardeners in colder zones will enjoy growing bougainvillea in containers that live outdoors in summers and are brought into cool interiors in winter. Let plant rest - let soil dry out between watering and do not fertilize (it will drop it's leaves but will leaf out again in spring). Bougainvillea is also used to create beautiful flowering bonsai specimens.

trimmed as shrubs
Here's a colorful bunch of bougainvillea bushes growing at Miami's Fairchild (they've since been replaced by a new visitor's center).


Bougainvillea is famous for its brilliantly colored floral displays and quick growth rate. It is also inexpensive, commonly available and easy to care for. Available in a dazzling spectrum of colors ranging from purple to magenta to scarlet to brick red to crimson. Also look for white, pink, orange, and salmon.

Bougainvilleas are thorny plants that are sometimes used as security plants. In tropical areas this fast grower is used to create colorful barriers. Because of the sharp thorns do not grow too closely to swimming pools and playgrounds where bare skin is likely to be pierced, punctured or pricked.

Jack Scheper 06/13/99; updated 8/23/04, 10/3/07

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Bougainvillea species profiled on Floridata:

Bougainvillea spp

( bougainvillea, paper flower )

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