A Flowerful History

Bougainvillea is one of my favourite flowers. Although not native to the Sonoran Desert, it’s one of the most recognizable plants here and elsewhere, a subtropical woody shrub prized for its beautiful colours.

But here’s the rub: those colours — from red and purple to salmon, orange and white — ain’t the real flowers.

The “petals” are actually specialized leaves, called bracts. The real flowers are small and slim and white.

Many plants are named for people, as is this one. It honours Louis Antoine de Bougainville (1729-1811), a Parisian with an unusual history. He trained as a lawyer but gave that up for a career in the army. He became a musketeer (yes, one of those sword-wielding fellows), then sailed to Canada where he fought the British in an effort to save Quebec.

On his return to France he switched careers again, this time joining the navy. He lead the first French circumnavigation of the globe (1766-1769). He discovered the plant that bears his name in Brazil. (Obviously intrigued by plants he named his son Hyacinthe.)

Along on Bougainville’s trip, disguised as a man, was Jeanne Baré (sometimes spelled Baret or Barret) — who thus became the first French woman to sail around the world.

And by now, you can probably guess the national flower of Grenada.

Who knew a flower could cover so much ground!


Bougainvillea   Bougainvillea spp.


2 thoughts on “A Flowerful History

  1. Just yesterday I saw my first Indian paintbrush of the year — another beautiful, bracted plant. I do love the bougainvillea, particularly since it does well on my west-facing balcony.


    1. Lucky you — bougainvillea on your balcony! They wouldn’t survive in Alberta. But I’ll enjoy here on the desert. As for paintbrush back home, they won’t be blooming until June (or later) depending on what Old Man Winter deems to do between now and then. (thelensandi.wordpress.com/2016/06/22/a-brush-with-colour/)


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