Bougainvillea: A Symphony of Color and Meaning in the Garden

Bougainvillea flowers have long been prized for their stunning inflorescences, which are colorful, paper-like bracts surrounding tiny white flowers. Also known as paper flowers, in warm climates, these thorny, evergreen vines grace the landscape with long-lasting blooms in a wide range of hues. Drought- and sun-tolerant, these tough plants also have many medicinal uses. Here, we’ll take you through everything you need to know about bougainvillea flower symbolism and meaning.

Symbolic Bougainvillea Flowers

Bougainvillea Flower Symbolism – The Essentials

The stunning bougainvillea flower carries the symbolic meaning of passion and beauty. This evergreen vine’s “blooms” — actually brightly colored bracts — grow in stunning shades of red, pink, and more. When given as a gift, it’s easy to see why the language of flowers uses bougainvillea as a symbol of passionate attraction.

Etymological Meaning

Bougainvillea is named after Admiral Louis Antoine de Bougainville, a late 18th-century explorer.

Bougainvillea Flower Symbolism

Bougainvillea Flower Symbolism

I love that Bougainvillea produces bracts in various colors, from hot pink, red, and orange to purple, white, and yellow. In the language of flowers, bougainvillea stands for passion. To the Victorians, a gift of bougainvillea was meant to ignite passion.

In other parts of the world, bougainvillea flowers stand for welcoming visitors, peace, and free trade.

The Cultural Significance of Bougainvillea Flowers

Bougainvillea has long graced tropical gardens around the world. After these South American natives began to be exported, their popularity in warm regions has only grown.

Today, bougainvillea is the national flower of Grenada. An image of the plant is on the national coat of arms, and several streets and hotels are named for bougainvillea. In Guam, bougainvillea is also the state flower. Several cities in California, Japan, China, and the Philippines have chosen the bougainvillea as their official flower.

The Cultural Significance of Bougainvillea Flowers

Several countries celebrate the bougainvillea at annual festivals. In Darwin, Australia, a bougainvillea festival drew crowds for decades. The island nation of Fiji also has a bougainvillea festival, as does the Bougainvillea Society of India.

In Hawaii, bougainvillea is sometimes used in leis to welcome visitors. In some parts of Africa, dried bougainvillea bracts are used as confetti. And in the Himalayas, bougainvillea vines are grown as living fences and used to pen livestock.

In California, the plant gained popularity as a landscape ornamental in the late 1800s. There, it was often grown on historic Spanish mission buildings and in public parks and featured prominently at the early 1900s Spanish-Panama Exposition. Vintage postcards from this era often feature bright bougainvillea.

Suitable Gifting Occasions for Bougainvillea Flowers / Plants

Suitable Gifting Occasions for Bougainvillea Flowers / Plants

The brilliant colors of bougainvillea light up any bouquet, arrangement, or floral gift. In the language of flowers, bougainvillea symbolizes passion, so they’re a great addition to a bouquet for a loved one or that special date night.

Bougainvillea Flower FAQs:

Are bougainvillea plants considered lucky?

Bougainvillea flowers were considered a symbol of passion by the Victorians. In other cultures, they symbolize welcome, peace, and the promotion of free trade.

What color flowers do bougainvillea plants produce?

Bougainvillea flowers are tiny, white, and nondescript, but they’re surrounded by brilliant, papery bracts that look like flowers. These bracts grow in a range of colors, including red, pink, orange, yellow, purple, and white.

How many times a year does a bougainvillea bloom?

In hot climates, bougainvillea can bloom periodically throughout the year. Usually, they bloom in spring, summer, or fall.

How long does a bougainvillea bloom?

Most bougainvillea bloom for a long time. Expect to see colorful bracts for four to six weeks at a time.

Where does bougainvillea grow best?

Bougainvillea grows best in sites with dry soil and lots of sun. They thrive in tropical and warm climates, and in USDA hardiness zones 9b to 11a.

Wrap-up

Bougainvillea lights up any landscape or floral gift with its stunning, colorful bracts. These paper-thin petals come in a dazzling array of colors, from red and pink to orange, white, yellow, and purple. Perfect for hot, dry locations, bougainvillea is a woody, thorny climber that quickly fills the landscape with color and texture. In the language of flowers, these South American natives stand for passion.


Contributing Editor | linsay@petalrepublic.com | Full Bio

Linsay is an American copywriter based in the Pacific Northwest with a background in academic writing and research. Linsay holds Master's degree in both Anthropology and Library and Information Sciences and has written for numerous national and international publications including USA Today, SFGATE, Hunker, and The Bump across an array of topics in the gardening, green living, and travel sectors. When she's not writing, you'll usually find Linsay reading, kayaking, sailing, snowboarding, or working in her garden.

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