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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Bougainvillea- - color galore- the vine with a past

Here are the nearly neon colors we see along the south coast combined which is the best way to handle them. These  vines have been pruned  heavily to keep them close against the iron fence. The close pruning keeps them blooming heavily. ( If you’re growing them in pots in a greenhouse, that’s a whole different story.)

As my well-versed readers probably already know, what we’re seeing is the brilliant bracts of the plant, not the flowers which are small and insignificant. Bouganvellia has been heavily hybridized, there are about 300 different varieties, some of them quite subtle.

                                                      This one is Hugh Evans

                                                 Aussie Gold

Jubilee Pink

Easter Parade

Bougainvillea also come in “carpet” varieties—they have been bred as ground covers. Since the vines are very drought resistant once established, they make a flamboyant slope covering. Pots also  suit them well.

Around here, growing them is extremely easy. The only trick is to realize they are very fussy about having their roots disturbed. Don’t try and take them out of their gallon or 5 gallon can. Cut the sides so the roots can get out easily, and plant the whole business. Water them occasionally to get them established. The paler hybrid  colors seem to need a little more water than the  old standbys, like these.

Barbara Karst

California Gold

Scarlet O'Hara

Bougainvillea is named for a truly gallant French admiral  Louis –Antoine, Comte de Bougainville who was the first Frenchman to circumnavigate the world, and carry a professional crew of scientists. This included the botanist Phillibert Commerçon  Royal Botanist and Naturalist,  to collect botanical specimens.

 It was Commerçon  who officially discovered the brilliant vine in Brazil and named it for the admiral.

                                            Louis –Antoine, Comte de Bougainville

 However, there’s more to the story. Commerçon was old and ill, and insisted on his assistant Jean Barré,  accompanying him on the voyage to do the grunt work, keep his files, specimens in order and attend to his bad health. Otherwise Commerçon said, he simply couldn't make the trip. De Bougainville agreed. Barré, was most probably the real discoverer of one of our favorite plants

 As it turned out, Barré was a woman, and Jeanne was the first woman to circumnavigate the globe. , She was born an illegitimate peasant, managed to educate herself sufficiently to ably assist Commerçon. In  her old age  she was granted a pension by the French Navy .

                                                             Jeanne  Barré

Our brilliant Bougainvillea  vine is  deeply entwined with  history. 


De Bougainville went on to discover Tahiti ( to the western world ) and wrote  a book which suggested--- based on his experiences in Tahiti---  idea of “the noble savage” to Rousseau.

There’s more!  De Bougainville , as a French admiral, participated in a successful battle-the Battle of the Virginia Capes--- which helped turn the tide in our favor during in the American Revolution.

                                             The Battle of the Virginia Capes

 The French monarchy bankrupted itself backing our Revolution which led directly to their Revolution. It was not Marie Antoinette’s dress allowance that did it, but giving very expensive   French naval and military support to Washington’s army. They couldn't afford that and the clothes.

                                                           Marie Antoinette c. 1775

But the French could never resist an opportunity to strike a blow at the British.

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