Bougainvillea spectabilis (Paper Flower)

Bougainvillea spectabilis Bougainvillea spectabilis (Paper Flower) Aka  Buganvilla (Spain), Bugambilia (Mexico), Napoleón (Honduras), Veranera (Colombia, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Panama), Trinitaria (Colombia, Cuba, Panama, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic & Venezuela), Santa Rita (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) or papelillo (northern Peru).  It is a genus of thorny ornamental vines, bushes, and trees with flower-like spring leaves near its flowers. Different authors accept between four and 18 species in the genus. They are native plants of South America from Brazil west to Perú and south to southern Argentina (Chubut Province).

The true, perfect flower is small, tubular, commonly white or yellow, and surrounded by showy, vibrantly colourful petaloid bracts. “Bougainvillea” is the generic name after Philibert Commerson (1727-1773) in honor of Louis Antoine de Bougainville (1729-1811), French marine explorer who introduced the plant in Europe from Brazil and who was the botanist who travelled with him in his world expedition from 1766 to 1769. His publication was the “Antoine Laurent de Jussieu”, the Genera Plantarum (Jussieu), 91, in 1789.

Bougainvillea ‘Flame’Bougainvillea ‘Flame’ 

Bougainvillea spectabilis

Bougainvillea is a woody, scandent plant grown on walls and trellises, with brilliant red-purple, orange, yellowish, or white bracts providing spectacular color. It may persist about old dwellings, and occasionally in plant dumps and gardens in warmer parts of the flora area.

Bougainvillea spectabilis Bougainvillea spectabilis can grow in USDA hardiness zones 10-11, preferring full sun , dry conditions, and fertile soil. It can be propagated from stem and root cuttings. They need at least five hours of direct sun in well draining soil. The medium needs to be well drained to prevent a poor root system and reduced flowering. Avoid media with high peat content and water-retention levels. These types of media retain too much water and will contribute to root rot. Media pH should be 5.5–6.0.

Bougainvillea spectabilisBougainvilleas behave very much like tropical lianas growing with various long-stemmed, woody vines that are rooted in the soil at ground level and use trees, as well as other means of vertical support.

Bougainvillea spectabilis

Bougainvillea spectabilis grows as a woody vine or shrub, reaching 15 to 40 feet (4.6 to 12.2 m) with heart-shaped leaves and thorny, pubescent stems. They can easily reach the size of a medium tree. They must be pruned and be given space for its climbing growth habit. 

Bougainvillea spectabilis

They are drought and moderately salt tolerant, making them ideal for tropical climates. At this time of year they are in full bloom in P.R., yet they can also bloom all throughout the year more profusely now then diminishing somewhat but never stop blooming.

Bougainvillea spectabilisOnce it becomes a liana it’s the most beautiful sight.

BonsaiBougainvillea bonsai at Heathcote Gardens, Fort Myers, FL 

Bougainvillea spectabilis Willd. Brazil bougainvilleaCurtis’s Botanical Magazine, vol. 80 [ser. 3, vol. 10]: t. 4810 (1854) [W.H. Fitch]
drawing: W.H. Fitch



93 thoughts on “Bougainvillea spectabilis (Paper Flower)

  1. Ah! Bougainvillea. One or my favourite plants. I always associate it with lovely holiday destinations! At the hotel on our honeymoon in Mauritius they used the bracts to decorate our room and garnish drinks! Everywhere we go on holiday outside the UK has bougainvillea growing. This probably reflects on our love of hot countries! I love all the colours it comes in and it is also pretty good at attracting butterflies!! Sadly it doesn’t grow in Scotland, but I maybe wouldn’t appreciate it so much if it did!


  2. Although I love all flowers and am generally content with what we can grow in the UK and Ireland I really would like to be able to plant bougainvilleas outside here. But I don’t think they would look quite the same without the intensity of the sun somehow so I will have to enjoy them on holidays. They can be grown here in a greenhouse and sometimes survive outside in summer but they never have the exuberance they have in warmer climes. Lovely photos as always 🙂


    • Thanks Geoff, this one likes that hot sun and be on the dry side. Nevertheless, the soil pH around where I live is very low, so it literally kills them. How can one increase the soil’s alkalinity without having to replace a whole lot?


      • Do you mean the soil is too acid? If so you can increase the pH with garden lime if you can get it – we can here but I do not know what you have. A slower way would be to save your egg shells and dry them, crush them and sprinkle those on the soil. If you are near the sea, which I guess you must be, if you collected shells and washed them and crushed them they would add calcium too.


  3. Such a wonderful presentation for this great and showy vine dear Maria!Love it for its brilliant flowers with the vibrant red colour!Your photos are really gorgeous!
    Here is one dedicated to you,it’s from our seaside garden in Peloponnese :

    Bougainvillea's Rambling Story...


    • Gracias Isabel, si entiendo que te guste mas la primera, pues a mi no me gusta tomarle fotos a las casas pero lo tuve que hacer para mostrar el habito de la planta. 😕


  4. Very lovely, they really are to tropical for Houston but many people grow them here anyway. I love them growing up in San Diego and planted the whole fence with them in my house in Mission Viejo. I think they look best with Spanish architecture. Happy spring!


    • I just read these plants dread high humidity levels; since California is more on the dry side, they are probably happier there. Here it’s very humid, but the sun and drought compensate for that. I also read they hate being sprinkled with a hose, that’s how much they hate humidity. I tried to raise one by the beachside here but the soil killed it. The irony of the “beach garden” is precisely that one; the types of soil you’re going to use. Some plants are going to be very happy with a low pH, while others will require a moderately high one.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Eliza, these plants have surprised me with their requirements! They don’t like being sprinkled with water, and they like to be on the dry side, even slightly acidic soil will kill them.


  5. Red, purple, white, yellow and orange, all these are there in a captivating cluster in my home garden. Reading your post, Maria, my grateful appreciation goes out to Brazil, an agro-rich land where everything grows, and to the soul of the botanist who pioneered the propagation of bougainvillea; these flowers are a key element in the beautification of public places, be it gardens, road medians or round-abouts. My favourite is the deep red variety.. My hugging appreciation comes your way for bringing these descriptions and images…


  6. I have often seen these wonderful flowers when travelling abroad Maria, but never new about them.. So thank you so much for all the information and especially All the wonderful photo’s… ❤ Hugs Sue xxx


  7. Bougainvillea are such beautiful flowers and make perfect hedgerows. The photo of the bougainvillea is gorgeous!


  8. Spectacular post, Maria, sensational! You are really special.
    I need to learn how to do those … watermarks? …. those signatures right on the photograph.


  9. Like so many other plants and trees, bougainvillea is not native to Southern California but you wouldn’t know it with the profusion of bougainvillea we have here in all colors… I always have to explain to people who are not from the area that they are not looking at the flowers but at the bracts… I do love to see these plants… your photos are lovely..


    • Thank you Roslyn! Yes, another blogger mentioned the same thing about them liking the California weather even more than the humidity of subtropical places in the U.S.. Yesterday, I repotted a plant and added more alkaline soil because it was barely thriving in the soil I had it in.


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