Get to know this flower

One of the most visible vines in southern California and all over Baja is the gorgeous bougainvillea (Bougainvillea spectabilis or Bougainvillea brasiliensis).  This flowering beauty is native to South America.  Its name was given in honor of Louis Antoine de Bougainville, a French Naval admiral, who in 1768 began his long journey to the Pacific Ocean and discovered the vine that still bears his name.

In those days, it truly was the botanical highlight of the voyage.  He became the first one to describe it to the Europeans, and still today the Bougainvillea flourishes all over the southern Mediterranean countries like France, Spain, Italy and Greece.

Bougainvillea in BajaWhen you look at the Bougainvillea’s flowers close-up, you will notice that the vibrant color of this vine does not come from the small white tubular flowers, but that each cluster of three flowers is surrounded by 3 or 6 large paper-like bracts.  These come in a variety of bright and sunny colors, including pink, magenta, purple, red, orange, white, and yellow.  So it is sometimes referred to as the “paper flower”, because the colorful bracts (that are often mistaken for flowers) are thin and papery.

Bougainvilleas are thorny and woody rambling vines, growing as high as twelve meters tall, scrambling over other plants using their hooked thorns. Sometimes they crawl into trees and embrace them; just the other day I noticed one purple Bougainvillea that had climbed into a tree on the road between Maneadero and Punta Banda.

Where rainfall occurs all year, they are evergreens.  They can even be deciduous (meaning they lose all their leaves) after a dry season.  But in home gardens, Bougainvilleas seem to bloom best with neglect and little water, which is perfect for northern Baja.

And because of its aggressive growth and with their hardened thorns and prolific branches, this plant often serves as a natural barrier for security purposes.

I hope next time you meet a flowering Bougainvillea along a road somewhere just stop for a brief moment, maybe even take a small branch home. You may never look at this ubiquitous vine the way you did before.

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