Trick or Tree-t: The Hardy Bougainvillea

By Vishnupriya Hathwar

The Bouganvillea is a common plant across the cities in India. Many of us use it as ornamental plants and as fencing plants. But did you know that the bougainvillea is actually from South America?  And this plant was discovered by botany expert Jeanne Baré, the first woman to circumnavigate the world?Page_6_bouganvillea

When someone says the word “Bougainvillea”, the first thing that pops into our minds are the colours – pink, white, orange, red. These plants are loosely termed as “ Non native- non invasive species” as they don’t grow rapidly and take over tracts of land like their invasive counterparts –Lantana.

Bougainvilleas’ stems are extremely hard and tough to break through. This is why many people use these plants for fencing purposes and use the wood to line cattle sheds. Bougainvilleas are also quite toxic to most insects and animals – another reason for people to use these plants for fencing purposes.

Did you know that native South American tribes use the thorns as needles? they use them to stitch fur, cloth etc.? But, these tribes are careful in not coming in contact with the thorns directly; you see the thorns are laced with a black waxy substance which causes irritation to the surface and localized inflammation when it pierces the skin. This plant has a lot of tricks up its (s)leaves!!!!

The flower, or what we see as the “flower”, is also not the actual flower. The flowers are small, simple, white and are clustered at the centre. The “colourful” parts are actually the bracts (normally the green spikey little covering one finds at the base of other flowers like rose and hibiscus). The bracts are large, papery and colourful and take on the role of attracting insects. The next time you step outside and see these plants, take a moment to admire them and understand their mysterious ways of working.