UF/IFAS Okeechobee County Extension Service

458 Highway 98 North

Okeechobee, FL 34972-2578

Phone: (863) 763-6469

E- mail:  asachson@ifas.ufl.edu

May 9, 2007

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Feature Article - for release the week of May 13, 2007

Angela Sachson – Florida Yards & Neighborhoods


Right Plant, Right Place Florida Friendly Bougainvillea Has Everything-- Looks, Personality


The first principle of Florida Friendly gardening is Right Plant, Right Place.  This means that plants should be grouped according to their needs for light, water and food.  The plant described in today’s column is right for many places.

One of the most popular tropical plants is the Bougainvillea.   It looks great and has pleasant personality!  Beautiful long-lasting flower bracts appear all winter—looking like tissue paper fantasies!  In spring and summer there are fewer bracts but it continues to bloom. 

Want easy color?  Consider Bougainvillea!  This photo from a garden show illustrates the wide variety of colors available.  Photo:  Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS

The true flowers of Bougainvillea are the small round white circles on this plant. They may not be noticed because they are surrounded by the colorful "bracts" that can give Florida Yards lots of color.  Photo:  Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS @ EPCOT, WDW

The colorful bracts surround the small flowers.  They may be purple or pink but can be white, red, yellow or orange.  Two cultivars of this plant have both pink and white flower bracts – look for them by names, Surprise and Vickie.  Foliage may be green or green and white.  Bougainvillea’s pretty arching habit with blooms at the end of the stem can be both traditional looking and architectural.

That’s the beauty part, and here is the personality.  Bougainvillea is flexible.  You can keep it short or train it to be tall.  You can use it as a ground cover, a standard, a small tree, espaliered, a hanging basket, or cascading down a wall.  It is hardy to zone 9B but can easily be grown in containers in cooler climes.

More beautiful Bougainvillea personality traits:  the plant is anxious to please, staying evergreen, and tolerating almost any soil from clay to sand and from acidic to slightly alkaline.  Bougainvillea is drought tolerant---something you may have noticed lately.  It is not invasive and is relatively pest free.  It will please you by growing and blooming in your hottest, driest spot but will tolerate our wet summer if it is in well-drained soil


This Bougainvillea is ready to cover this trellis in Okeechobee with a cavalcade of color.  Photo: Angela Sachson, UF/IFAS

Bougainvillea is also adapted to container culture, such as this bonsai specimen.  Photo:  Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS

The stair rail pictured here has several hanging baskets of Bougainvillea that creates this colorful accent. Photo:  Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS @ EPCOT, WDW

Bougainvillea shows off its best color when kept on the dry side, and may perform better if left alone.  Photo:  Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS

It is energetic, growing quickly to cover a fence or climb a tree.  Another description for the “Boug” is undemanding -- it flowers best in harsh conditions of hot sun, so allow it to dry out between watering, and it needs little nitrogen fertilizer.  It benefits from a bloom-boosting, potassium-rich fertilizer once or twice a year but will manage pretty well without it.

A Tropical transplant

No wonder Admiral Louis Antoine de Bougainville, the first Frenchman to cross the Pacific was so excited to discover this beautiful plant in Brazil. The first Bougainvillea was noticed in Rio de Janeiro in 1760 by a European botanist traveling with the admiral.  This plant was the botanical highlight of the voyage.  The explorers brought back no other plants to Europe on that trip.  

Cultivated Bougainvillea first appeared in Paris in 1830. Another ten years passed before they were flowering in England and, possibly at about the same time, they began spreading to the Eastern tropics.  Since that time nearly 200 years ago Bougainvillea just gets better.

If you didn’t grow up around them, you may also remember your first.  I remember the first time I first saw one in Arizona - they cascaded down the mountains like a fuchsia blanket.

There are two species commonly used in Florida.  Bougainvillea spectabilis is a large sprawling shrub or vine which can grow as high or wide as 20 feet.  Bougainvillea glabra has slightly smaller leaves and reaches a maximum height of ten feet with equal spread.

Bougainvillea is a perfect plant but you should be aware that it has sharp spines, and should be planted away from traffic, unless a burglar bush is desired.  It is sensitive to freezing temperatures (just trim off the injured part later in the spring), and needs occasional pruning—which it tolerates very well.

Here is the best part.  If you love Bougainvillea you can have lots.  They grow readily from cuttings four to six inches long and will develop root systems in 4-6 weeks.  Just keep the cuttings warm and the tops moist—bottom heat and misting are one great way to do this. 

But with Florida temperatures and a plastic bag over the pot, home gardeners will also be able to create new plants. Ask your friends for cuttings of their plants and be sure to give them one of yours.

Remember—Florida Friendly Gardening Emphasizes ten principles.  Right Plant, Right Place is one of them.  Water Efficiently is number two.  Drought-tolerant plants like Bougainvillea help us water efficiently!

Our University of Florida fact sheet calls this plant “under-used”.  We can fix that!

I’ve placed pictures and more information on our Okeechobee web page, http://okeechobee.ifas.ufl.edu.  If you need additional information on Bougainvillea, please email us at okeechobee@ifas.ufl.edu or call us at 863-763-6469.  Local residents can stop by our office at 458 Hwy 98 North in Okeechobee, and visit our Okeechobee County Master Gardeners from 1 to 3 PM on Tuesday afternoons. GO GATORS!  

Trade names, where used, are given for the purpose of providing specific information. They do not constitute an endorsement or guarantee of products named, nor does it imply criticism of products not named. The Florida Cooperative Extension Service - Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer authorized to provide research, educational information, and other services to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap, or national origin.  Florida Cooperative Extension Service / IFAS / University of Florida.  Larry A.  Arrington, Dean. Last update: 05/11/2007.  This page is maintained by Dan Culbert    


Gabel, K.  Blooming Bougainvillea.  Key West: UF/IFAS/Monroe County Extension Service, 1/ 2006. http://monroe.ifas.ufl.edu/pdf/Hort/2006%20News%20Articles/2006-01jan_blooming_bougainvillea.pdf 

Gilman, E.  Bougainvillea [FPS-70].  Gainesville: Florida Cooperative Extension Service,10/1999.  http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/shrubs/BOUSPPA.PDF 

McAvoy, G.  Bougainvillea - A Robust and Spectacular Climbing Vine (Hendry County Horticulture News).  LaBelle: UF/IFAS Hendry County Extension Service, undated.  http://hendry.ifas.ufl.edu/HCHortNews_Bougainvillea.htm 

Norcini, J,   Butler, J,  and Rogers, L.  "Bougliography"  [ Monticello Research Report No. BB95-2].   Monticello: UF/IFAS North Florida REC, 1/ 1995.  http://nfrec.ifas.ufl.edu/norcini/Publications/Boug-bib95.pdf 

Schoellhorn, R.  and Alvarez, E. Warm Climate Production Guidelines for Bougainvillea [ENH 874] . Gainesville: Florida Cooperative Extension Service, 10/2002.  http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/EP130 .

Welshans, J.   Bougainvilleas (Plant Life Column).  Kissimmee: UF/IFAS Osceola County Extension Service, 6/30/2001. http://osceola.ifas.ufl.edu/pdfs/Master%20Gardener/Archives/archives_2001/PLC_Bougainvilleas.pdf