Bougainvillea is not a name you should say softly. Any plant with flowers as garish, brilliant, fluorescent, strident – the adjectives go on and on – should have its name shouted out. And no plant epitomizes Santa Barbara like bougainvillea.
It appears to consume fences, walls and every surface where it chooses to grow. A gardener attempting to subdue its wild ways comes away bloodied from her vicious thorns, used to claw through more tender vegetation to emerge ferocious and bright, the center of attention.
She produces color year-round and belongs with our dry succulent landscapes, white walls, and terra-cotta tile roofs. But bougainvillea hasn’t always been here in California. The plant is native to South America where it was first described by a French botanist traveling with his friend, the explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville, who was circumnavigating the globe in the late 1700s.
For all its tough, tenacious ways, Bougainvillea has its tender moments. Because its roots never knit well in the nursery container, it needs to be eased carefully into its planting hole. But once established, stand back, because nothing takes to the benevolent Santa Barbara sun like our bougainvillea. If you are in Santa Barbara this time of year, or another bougainvillea saturated city, take time to appreciate her majesty.