bougainvillea flowers with Bougainvillea on Maho Beach, St Maarten
Pink, purple, red, and orange bougainvillea on Maho Beach in St. Maarten.

Once upon a time, the hibiscus was my favorite tropical flower. But on a recent cruise to the Eastern Caribbean, an even more exotic bloom caught my eye and stole my heart: bougainvillea. Whether I was strolling along the turquoise shorelines of St. Maarten or hiking through the deep, lush jungles of St. Lucia, this colorful flower brought a bright burst of excitement to every breathtaking landscape I encountered. After I got home, I just had to learn more about the gorgeous bougainvillea flower and, of course, share some vacation photos with my readers.

History of bougainvillea flowers

Bougainvilleas are scattered throughout the warmest parts of the world — the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, India, Mexico, Australia, the southern United States — but the flowers are actually native to Rio de Janeiro. They were first found there in 1768 by Philibert Commerçon, a French explorer and naturalist. Commerçon named the flowers after his good friend Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, the French admiral with whom Commerçon sailed around the world from 1766 to 1769.

Bougainvillea Blossom on Maho Beach, St Maarten
A pink bougainvillea blossom on Maho Beach in St. Maarten.
Orange Bougainvillea Vine in Soufriere, St Lucia
An orange bougainvillea vine in Soufriere, St. Lucia.

It wasn’t until the early 19th century that the bougainvillea was brought to Europe. Soon, France and England became thriving producers of the flower and eventually began trading it to Australia and other countries around the world.

About bougainvillea flowers

bougainvillea flowers with Purple Bougainvillea Vine in Soufriere, St Lucia
A purple bougainvillea vine in Soufriere, St. Lucia.

The bougainvillea plant is a thorny vine that can reach anywhere from 3 to 39 feet in height. In areas that lie closer to the equator, bougainvilleas bloom all year long, but in non-tropical locations, their bloom cycles last only four to six weeks. They produce tiny white flowers that are surrounded by waxy, brightly colored leaves called bracts. So, believe it or not, those breathtaking shades of pink, purple, red, orange, and yellow that you typically see on the bougainvillea aren’t actually flowers — they’re leaves!

If you’re looking to grow bougainvilleas at home, keep in mind they need dry soil, lots of sun, and regular fertilization. Other than that, these flowers are a gardener’s dream: They don’t need a lot of water (they actually spoil when they’re watered too much), and they’re naturally resistant to pests and disease. They’re even available in bonsai form!

When it comes to landscape design, bougainvillea is also one of the most versatile flowers: Depending on your preference, you can either prune it into a small topiary, shape it into a medium-sized bush, or train it to sprawl over fences, walls, trellises, and more. No matter how you decorate your yard with it, the bougainvillea and its explosive color will turn your home into a tropical paradise.


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