Cooperative Extension Service 
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
Hendry County Extension, P.O. Box 68, LaBelle, Florida 33975-0068   Phone (863) 674-4092

Hendry County Horticulture News

Bougainvillea - A Robust and Spectacular Climbing Vine

Considered one of the world's most beautiful vines, the bougainvillea is a robust and spectacular evergreen climber that may be seen in it's peak color and splendor across our area this month. Its flamboyant name comes from its European discoverer, Louis Antoine de Bougainville.  Bougainvillea belongs to the Nyctaginacaeae or four o'clock family and has some 250 species, which are found throughout South America, particularly Brazil. However only a few species are normally grown as ornamentals.  It was introduced into Europe in the late 1800s and now thrives as a popular garden plant  throughout the tropics and sub-tropical regions of the world.

The Brazilian "Paper Vine" is most often seen outdoors, where it can grow as high as 13 feet and cover large areas, but can be tamed and brought indoors.

The bougainvillea may flower throughout the year and the flowers come in a medley of colors. The brightly colored papery flowers are actually bracts sheathing the slender stem. Bougainvillea's bracts come in a wide array of colors including every possible shade of red, pink, and purple, with newer varieties in yellow, orange, and white. The true flowers are insignificant white, trumpet shaped little things located in the center of the spectacular papery bracts.

The Bougainvillea requires direct sunlight for top performance and floral displays.  Typically, its flowers are in peak bloom is during our cool dry season between December to March, although it may produces less abundant displays throughout the year.

Bougainvillea  requires adequate water, but the soil should not be water logged and it should be allowed to dry out between watering and kept on the dry side in Winter.

Truly a flower of the favelas or poverty stricken barrios of Brazil, the  bougainvillea does well in poor soil and will thrive even in soils containing brick rubble and sand. This rampant vine will do well on a variety of well drained soils but may become chlorotic on alkaline soils.  A variety of natural and chemical fertilizers can be used.  For more luxuriant flowering, the addition of potassium sulfate is sometimes recommended in addition to a standard complete fertilizer.  Care should be taken to avoid over fertilizing bougainvilleas, particularly with nitrogen as this may lead to excessive vegetative growth and reduced flowering.

Bougainvillea is a rampant sprawling climber and can grow rapidly to cover large areas if left to grow unchecked. Bougainvilleas withstand clipping well. Pruning is essential in order to achieve the desired shape and size. Although the bougainvillea is normally a climbing plant it can be pruned to be a shrub and can also be planted in pots. Pruning should be done after an abundant flowering season or at the start of the rainy season. Pruning after the late summer or early fall will severely reduce flower production during the peak winter season.  Be careful when pruning as some cultivars bear a sharp slender thorn in the leaf axil.

A number of horticultural varieties are available.  These include Bougainvillea glabra (carmine-rose bracts); B. sanderiana (rich rose-red bracts); B. variegata (leaves are marked with creamy-white variegated patterns); B. spectabilis (rose colored bracts); B. spectabilis var. Crimson Lake (bright crimson); B. praetoriensis (rich golden-bronze foliage) and B. harrisii (dark green leaves variegated with creamy white).

Although the some species of bougainvillea may produce seeds, they are self sterile and the horticultural varieties do not normally produce seeds.  The bougainvillea is grown from stem cuttings. Cuttings of 4 to 6 inches long are planted at an angle in sand or other well drained media which is watered everyday until the roots and new shoots appear. For best results, place cuttings in very warm soil (30-35 degrees C./86-95 degrees F.) and use rooting powder.

The bougainvillea is typically used as garden plants and for landscaping.  They can be left to ramble but are probably are most beautiful and effective when allowed to grow over arbors, walls, fences and carports.  Strategically located spiny varieties may be employed as very effective security or traffic control features.  They can also be trained into exotic bonsai shapes by using old branches. Bonsai plants can fetch quite high prices.

Well cared for bougainvilleas are relatively pest free.  New growth is sometimes ravaged by caterpillars.  Caterpillars can easily be controlled with Bt formulations.  Bougainvillea may also fall victim to mealy bugs, aphids, thrips, and red spider mites.

This beautiful and colorful flowering ornamental may just have a place in your landscape.  Good luck and good gardening.

Gene McAvoy is the horticulture agent with the Hendry County Extension Service.  Direct your horticulture questions to PO Box 68, LaBelle, FL 33975,  e-mail - or phone 863-674-4092 or  863-983-1598.  You are also welcome to visit the Hendry County Extension Office at 225 Pratt Blvd., LaBelle.   Office hours are from 8:00 - 5:00.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an Equal Employment Opportunity - Affirmative Action Employer authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap or national origin.

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