The plant that keeps on giving

by Central Magazine

For spectacular colour take a look at Bougainvillea - they could be classed as a true Mediterranean flower, and you will see them everywhere here in great colourful bushes, languidly growing over walls or framing archways with a riot of colour.

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I don’t know how anyone could resist stopping and admiring those beautiful displays. They grow well in Portugal as they can handle the heat, but need protection if the air temperature gets below 4C. I am a big fan of bougainvillea as they both thrive and survive in the heat.

The blooms themselves are small and white, and it’s the colourful papery bracts or modified leaves, which can be seen in a multitude of colours, from shades of pink, peach, purple, and red. Some hybrids have two colours on the same plant – say pink and white, or pink and orange – and are known as ‘rainbow’ bougainvillea.

Credits: envato elements;

A thorny subject  

They are a genus of thorny ornamental vines, bushes, and trees, that make great hedges for security purposes. The spines are located at the base of each leaf of the plant, are sharp and will easily pierce bare skin.  I remember waiting for my daughter outside her school with my small bored son in tow, who began standing on his head - as small bored boys do - and he managed to get one embedded in his head, which subsequently entailed a trip to A&E to remove it, so I can testify that yes, the thorns are indeed long and sharp.

Credits: envato elements;


They are native to tropical South America, and have the Latin name of Nyctaginaceae, and is a showy shrub or vine plant, with 18 known species of foundation stock, and was named after Louis Antoine de Bougainville, a French admiral, navigator and explorer from back in the 1700’s.

Credits: envato elements;


They don’t like wet feet, so if you have one, let it almost dry out before watering again, reducing the watering as growth slows in the autumn. They can take full sun and heat without skipping a beat, but they’re big babies with sensitive roots that don’t handle being moved very well. Once planted they are best left in situ for several years, and for your interest, they have a life-span of around 50 years or more. 

As far as pruning goes, cut down last year’s leaves and shoots in early spring so they can continue to branch. Make sure not to cut away the entire branches, and always leave a third of the length. The colourful flowers of this exotic looker always grow on the new shoots of the plant, so the first pruning is especially important.

In the language of flowers, they represent passion, and to the Victorians, a gift of bougainvillea was meant to ignite passion!  In other parts of the world, bougainvillea flowers represent a welcome for visitors, peace, and free trade.

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