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Bougainvillea, the paper flower

Big and rowdy, loud and lovely, this sprawling woody vine is colorful showboater wherever it is grown. Bougainvillea was named for Louis Antoine de Bougainville, a Frenchman who sailed around the world in 1767. I think it is pure luck that Amerigo Vespuci sailed first or it's possible that we would 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. Bougainvillea glabra is one that which 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. Learn more about Bougainvilleas.

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