The vibrant color of bougainvillea adds a welcome splash of color to southwestern landscapes. Despite their lush green appearance, they thrive in hot, dry climates with little fuss. There are several different species of bougainvillea with Bougainvillea glabra, B. peruviana, and B. spectabilis being the most common.
Native to South America, this drought-tolerant plant comes available as shrubs, vines, as well as pruned up into trees. All bougainvillea have thorns. This tropical plant is grown in Zone 9 and 10 USDA zones and is frost tender, which means it will suffer damage when temperatures dip below freezing.
The requirements of this colorful shrub are minimal – plant them in a sunny spot and water deeply and allow them to dry out in between irrigation. In fact, bougainvillea shrubs are one of the best choices for a hot, west-facing wall with hot reflected heat where many other plants struggle to survive.
Though magenta is the most common color, there are more than 300 different varieties of bougainvillea. Many are available in a variety of colors, including magenta, red, orange, white, and even golden yellow. It’s interesting to note that the colorful parts of this plant aren’t actually flowers, but bracts, which are specialized leaves that surround the tiny flower. The real flower is small and cream-colored and is located in the middle of the bracts.
To be honest, many people have a love/hate relationship with this tropical beauty – they love the color and lush foliage but hate the mess that their fallen bracts cause, so this isn’t a plant that belongs next to a pool or courtyard where its debris can collect. However, you can still enjoy their beauty while minimizing the mess. One way to do this is to plant them in a container as they do exceptionally well in pots and stay smaller, thereby producing less litter.
‘Torch Glow’ is a unique type with artfully arranged branches with the color localized at the tips. They produce less debris than other varieties.
While easy to grow, caterpillars can sometimes be a problem with bougainvillea. The damage shows up as ragged leaves, and it’s rare to see the caterpillars, which are very small. Typically, the damage is minor and doesn’t harm the plant, however. More severe infestations can be treated with the organic pesticide BT (Bacillus thurengiensis).
To maximize their colorful impact, plant this tropical shrub in full sun in a high-profile area. Bougainvillea will grow in light shade, but will produce fewer flowers with more of their attractive foliage on display.