Bougainvillea are an immensely showy, floriferous and hardy plant. Virtually pest-free and disease resistant, it rewards its owner with an abundance of color and vitality when it is well looked after.

Bougainvillea History

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A native to coastal Brazil, the bougainvillea was discovered in 1768 in Rio de Janeiro by French naturalist Dr. Philibert Commerçon (also sometimes spelled Commerson). The plant is named after his close friend and ship's admiral Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, who commanded the ship La Boudeuse that sailed around the world between 1766-1769, and in which Commerçon was a passenger.

Twenty years after Commerçon's discovery, it was first published as 'Buginvillea' in Genera Plantarium by A.L. de Jusseau in 1789. The genus was subsequently split in several ways until it was finally corrected to 'Bougainvillea' in the Index Kewensis in the 1930s. Originally, B. spectabilis and B. glabra were hardly differentiated until the mid 1980s when botanists recognized them to be totally distinct species. In early 19th century, these two species were the first to be introduced into Europe, and soon, nurseries in France and England did a thriving trade providing specimens to Australia and other faraway countries. Meanwhile, Kew Gardens distributed plants it had propagated to British colonies throughout the world. Soon thereafter, an important event in the history of bougainvillea took place with the discovery of a crimson bougainvillea in Cartagena, a Spanish port in the Mediterranean, by Mrs. R.V. Butt. Originally thought to be a distinct species, it was named B. buttiana in her honour. However, it was later discovered to be a natural hybrid of a variety of B. glabra and possibly B. peruviana - a "local pink bougainvillea" from Peru. Natural hybrids were soon found to be common occurrences all over the world. For instance, around the 1930s, when the three species were grown together, many hybrid crosses were created almost spontaneously in East Africa, India, the Canary Islands, Australia, North America, and the Philippines.

Scientific classification

Kingdom - Plantae
Division - Magnoliophyta
Class - Magnoliopsida
Order - Caryophyllales
Family - Nyctaginaceae
Genus - Bougainvillea
Species - Bougainvillea spectabilis
Bougainvillea glabra
Bougainvillea peruviana
Cultivar (or variety)

Note about Species: Many of today's bougainvillea are the result of interbreeding among only three out of the eighteen South American species recognized by botanists.

Note about Cultivars: Currently, there are over 300 varieties of bougainvillea around the world. Because many of the hybrids have been crossed over several generations, it's difficult to identify their respective origins. Natural mutations seem to occur spontaneously throughout the world; wherever large numbers of plants are being produced, bud-sports will occur. This had led to multiple names for the same cultivar (or variety) and has added to the confusion over the names of bougainvillea cultivars.