Bouganvillea – a tough climber

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FE15_bouganvillea1Bougainvilleas, with their dazzling display of vivid summer colour, are possibly the showiest and most popular tropical vine in cultivation. The actual flowers are tiny and insignificant — it is the brilliant bracts surrounding the flower which provide the flamboyant spectacle.
The vines originate from South America, and are named, together with a South Pacific island, after Louis Antoine de Bougainville, a noted 18th century sailor and explorer.

These dry climate plants will survive in most soils and don’t need a lot of feeding. When given fertilisers they usually make a lot of growth and either flower poorly or not at all. The best displays are often derived from plants which are kept dry and starved – they are well suited to growing in containers and will in fact flower more profusely if confined, than if over-fed and over-watered.
Being major heat lovers they prefer a sunny position, and look great on a warm, sun-filled wall where there is little colour competition. Warm soil temperature is almost as important as high air temperature so good drainage is a basic essential. Although requiring adequate summer moisture, they will tolerate considerable dryness once established.

A strong growing plant that needs a sturdy support, bougainvillea responds well to pruning — prune hard and remove twiggy growth after flowering as the vine flowers on new wood. Although evergreen they may lose leaves in a cold winter, the vine may even look dead, but then shoot away from the stems or the base as soon as the weather warms up.

F_FE15_bouganvillea2The hardiest, most cold tolerant bougainvillea is “Magnifica Traillii”, which has a magenta- purple blossom. It is the biggest, strongest grower, and can develop into a dense wall of purple, so needs a large area to spread — it also makes an excellent ground cover.

“Scarlet O’Hara” is one of the hardier and probably best-known bougainvilleas. It produces large, pendulous sprays of a deep scarlet, but its colour can vary slightly according to growing conditions – the harsher the conditions the deeper the colour.

A vigorous grower and spectacular climber, ‘Killie Campbell,” has reddish-brown bracts that change through to orange-scarlet and magenta-purple as they open. With all these colours appearing on one flowering stem simultaneously, the effect is awesome. It is exceptionally long-flowering, and has a distinctive weeping habit, which makes it great for pots on a sunny deck or in a planter.

Although an immensely tough climber, (it is widely used as a motorway plant in some countries), bougainvilleas are thorny beasts – avoid planting near steps, play areas or outdoor dining areas.