Bougainvillea spectabilis – in a heat wave, the only thing you can depend on. It's all over the place in Los Angeles, and since we've had all of seven inches of rain in the last year, and for weeks have been under an extreme heat advisory, it's thriving. Bougainvillea doesn’t' need much – overwater it and it just will not flower, and may lose its leaves, or wilt, or just up and die from root decay. It's quite happy in brutal late July out here.
Bougainvillea is native to South America and there are between four and eighteen species in the genus, depending on who's doing the plant taxonomy. Bougainvillea glabra is "paper flower" – the bracts are thin and papery. And that is where the color is. The actual flower of the plant is small and generally white – not much to write home about.
The name comes from the French botanist Philibert Commerçon – he discovered it in Brazil in 1768 and named it after his captain, French admiral and explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville – during that circumnavigation voyage. The cool thing is that the botanist's valet on the voyage was later unmasked by the ship's surgeon as Jeanne Baré, the botanist's mistress – thus she became the first woman to circumnavigate the globe. Ah, those French…
Of course there's the admiral's description of Tahiti in his 1771 book Voyage autour du monde – an earthly paradise where men and women live happily in innocence. That set off Rousseau and all that Noble Savage business.
But out here Bougainvillea is just the riot of colors everywhere.