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When Philibert Commercon sailed to South America in 1769 aboard a ship captained by Louis Antoine de Bougainville, he had no idea what the luridly coloured plant was that he saw. It took twenty years for the plant to be recognised and named after the captain, Bougainvillea.
It was some time after that the discovery of a crimson bracted plant in Cartegena, Colombia by Mrs Butt turned the Bougie world on it's head and then it was 'game on' as a plethora of cultivars were produced. The British transported Bougainvilleas to their colonies all over the world- to India, Malaysia and Australia.
Today there are probably over 400 different cultivars from four main species.
These show bracts (coloured leaves) in a dazzling range of colours from pure white, red, orange, purple and pink colours with spotted, streaked, edged and double bract arrangements. Actually, there is only one flower colour- a small white one completely overshadowed by the surrounding bracts.
Bougainvilleas grow in tropical, sub tropical and temperate climates and will even tolerate light frost (depending on species). Today's modern cultivars are small growing from 1-3m tall, unlike the older rampant varieties and can be trained well, unlike teenagers.
You may see spectacular examples of Bougainvillea so tightly clipped it looks possible to sit on them. This comes from regular maintenance where light clipping is carried out and sufficient feed is applied to keep leaves dark green. A complete fertiliser is best in Spring, Summer and Autumn, about a handful spread around the drip line, with Potash applied in say February or March before peak flowering time. Newer cultivars will be spasmodic flowerers, producing all year round with peaks at several times dependant on species.
Look for cascading Bougainvilleas that can be kept as capping on fences or dwarf species like Little Guy, Temple Fire and Tom Thumb which grow to just 1m tall.
Bougies need little disease prevention- at most, you will see triangular fungal lesions on leaves which are easily controlled by wettable sulphur or copper spray.
Make sure you are gentle on baby Bougainvilleas- the roots are lightly attached and fall off easily when handled roughly on planting. Once established they are indestructible.
Sorry, but no Bougainvillea is without thorns; thorns are the mechanism by which they scramble up trees to achieve their share of light. New cultivars have tiny thorns, tight manageable forms and will reward you with a colourful display. For the touch of the tropics go with Bougainvillea!
Read more on Bougainvillea from the blog " Beautiful Bougainvillea"