Bougainvillea in the Nyctaginaceae family is a genus of thorny ornamental vines, bushes, and trees with flower-like spring leaves near its flowers. Different authors accept between four and 18 species in the genus. They are native plants of South America from Brazil west to Perú and south to southern Argentina (Chubut Province). Bougainvillea are also known as Bugambilia (Mexico).
The vine species grow anywhere from 1 to 12 m tall, scrambling over other plants with their spiky thorns. The thorns are tipped with a black, waxy substance. They are evergreen where rainfall occurs all year, or deciduous if there is a dry season. The leaves are alternate, simple ovate-acuminate, 4–13 cm long and 2–6 cm broad. The actual flower of the plant is small and generally white, but each cluster of three flowers is surrounded by three or six bracts with the bright colours associated with the plant, including pink, magenta, purple, red, orange, white, or yellow.
Bougainvillea glabra is sometimes referred to as "paper flower" because the bracts are thin and papery. The species here illustrated is Bougainvillea spectabilis. The first European to describe these plants was Philibert Commerçon, a botanist accompanying French Navy admiral and explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville (hence the generic name), during his voyage of circumnavigation, and first published for him by Antoine Laurent de Jussieu in 1789.
It is possible that the first European to observe these plants was Jeanne Baré, Commerçon's lover and assistant whom he sneaked on board (despite regulations) disguised as a man (and who thus became the first woman to circumnavigate the globe).
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