Bougainvillea spectabilis



Bougainvillea spectabilis

Willd. 1799

pronounced: boo-gan-VILL--ee-uh speck-TAH-bill-iss

(Nyctaginaceae — the bougainvillea family)


common name: bougainvillea

Bougainvillea is named for the French mathematician and explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville (1729–1811), who, among other achievements in a long and distinguished life, was the first Frenchman to circumnavigate the world. He named the island of Bougainville after himself! Spectabilis, as I’m sure you can guess, is Latin for ‘spectacular’.

And spectacular it certainly is. Wherever you go on Magnetic Island, there always seems to be bougainvillea in bloom somewhere, often climbing high on a tree. It is seen in many colours – magenta, red, coral, apricot, orange, purple and white, although some of these may well be varieties, hybrids or cultivars. There are many of these varieties, including some nearly thornless shrubs. Some cultivars are sterile, and have to be propagated from cuttings. Some are also suitable as bonsai trees.

These plants, originating in the Amazon rain forests, are thorny, woody vines, trees or shrubs, growing anywhere from 1 m to 12 m tall, scrambling over other plants with their hooked thorns. Their thorns are tipped with a black, waxy substance that is easily left in their victim’s flesh. In wet climates they are evergreen, but they sometimes shed their leaves in dry periods. They thrive in tropical rain forest, where they climb to great heights to reach the sunlight at the top of the tree canopy. They don’t like swampy areas because of the lack of soil drainage: they like lots of water, but don’t like to hold it for long.

The leaves are alternate, simple ovate-acuminate, 4–13 cm long and 2–6 cm wide. The actual flower of the plant is tiny, and generally white. Each cluster of three flowers is surrounded by either 3 or 6 bracts, which are what gives the plant its colour. In varieties that seed, the fruit is a narrow 5-lobed achene.


Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2004-2010
Page last updated 22nd October 2018