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July 5, 2005 > Beautiful Bougainvillea

Beautiful Bougainvillea

by Pat Kite

I once had a beautiful scarlet bougainvillea vine by my back patio door. After several years, the long thorns on this thriving woody vine began interfering with my door exit. So I had to pay somebody to dig it out. I tried transplanting the remnants. Bougainvilleas do not transplant happily. Fortunately my neighbor now has one. She was wise enough to put it on a back fence where people don't traverse. I can see the scarlet flowers from my side, and so have the best of both worlds.

Bougainvilleas have an interesting story. It's a bit sexy, so if you're sensitive, stop here. The story starts with Louis Antoine de Bougainville, the first Frenchman to sail around the world. This was back in 1766. At that time the standard custom was for explorers to have a naturalist on board as part of the crew. In this instance, the naturalist was an older botanist, one Philibert de Commerson. Botanist Commerson brought with him an assistant, 27-year-old Jean Baret. Of course, customs of the time prevailing, this assistant was male. Or so everybody thought.

Well, when the ship docked in Tahiti, the local residents were quicker on the uptake. So one day when botanist Commerson and assistant Baret were studying wildflowers along the shoreline, a local chief came by, picked up Baret, and carried him off. Depending on the story version, when Baret was eventually rescued, his clothes were sort of messed up. At which time, Bougainville's amazed crew realized that they had a female crewmember. Jean became Jeanne to all, no problem.

It turns out that Jeanne had wanted to sail around the world. Some scholars think she deceived Commerson. Others guess that she knew women were seldom accepted as intellectual crewmembers, and had somehow persuaded Commerson to bring her along in disguise. Admiral Bougainville later wrote in his ship's diary, "I must do her justice to acknowledge that at all time while she was on board ship, she was the model of propriety."

Bougainvillea was among the 3000 new plants collected by botanist Commerson and Jeanne Baret. Commerson discovered it in Tahiti and named it after his friend, Admiral Bougainville.

Bougainvillea now comes in all kind of colors, including red, golden yellow, pale yellow, purple, white, magenta, rose pink, golden orange, and crimson. There are even those with bi-colored and double bracts. What's a bract? What looks like the flower parts is really a modified, or different shaped leaf. The flower on a bougainvillea is really the little white tube in the middle surrounded by the colorful bracts.

In addition to the vining types, which can get to 30 vining-shrub feet, there are shorter shrubby types comfortable in containers. All need sun. Once they get grounded, they don't need a lot of water. To get them grounded, move very carefully from planting container to site. Bougainvillea roots are sensitive and break easily when transplanted. Once they take hold, prune as needed. Keep in mind that Bougainvillea has super
thorns, so put them where they are pretty but not a pathway.

Answer to question about Ladybugs

Frank asked about comparative costs of ladybug packets. If you type "ladybug" into the computer, you will come across batches of distributors and prices. Most seem to sell in bulk. Some while ago, an acquaintance mentioned going to this site and search "Beneficial Insects." I have never purchased ladybugs via mail order... so can't recommend one way or another.

Snail Suggestion

Sharon said she puts on rubber gloves, carries a plastic bag, and gathers snails early in the morning. The bag is then tied off, and dumped in the garbage can. After a while, the snail problem greatly diminishes.

Pat Kite likes garden questions. She'll discuss these with her plants. This takes a while, so questions will be answered, as possible, in her next column. Thanks.

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