The bougainvillea genus – which belongs to the nyctaginaceae family – consists of roughly 18 species that are native to South America. These vigorously-growing evergreens may blossom forth as a creeping vine or as a shrub, and are covered in hooked thorns. Their leaves are simple, alternating, ovate and narrow at the tips. Although people generally think that the spectacular colors of the bougainvillea plant come from the flowers themselves, they are actually tiny tubular white blossoms that develop in small clusters. These clusters, however, are surrounded by three to six brightly-hued bracts that come in shades of purple, pink, red, orange, and gold.

Because of its spectacular beauty, the bougainvillea plant has become the official floral symbol of many locations – from San Clemente, Camarillo and Laguna Niguel, California all the way to the islands of Guam and Grenada. However, this vine’s ability to captivate is not a recent thing. In 1768, during one particular expedition to the Pacific Ocean, the French naturalist Philibert Commerçon discovered the bougainvillea; he then classified it in honor of his friend and shipmate, the French Navy admiral, Louis Antoine de Bougainville. After several decades of naming and renaming this genus – which was once mistakenly spelled “buginvillea” – it finally began a wide distribution. During the early part of the 19th century B. glabra and B. spectabilis were introduced in Europe – becoming particularly popular in France and England, who often traded these plants around the world and, in particular, with Australia. Although B. glabra and B. spectabilis were exceedingly popular in the 19th century, it was not until the late 20th century that the two plants were considered completely different species. Over the years, the appreciation for the bougainvillea plant has made it into art. Photographers such as Peter Clements and Marilyn Harris capture this vine’s natural splendor; while painters like Maryanne Jacobsen and Jean-Marc Janiaczyk feature it as a centerpiece to stunning scenes.

Unlike many other vines, the bougainvillea plant thrives best when placed in a hanging container, which makes it a fantastic gift. In addition to being a cultural symbol, these plants are said to represent prosperity, passion and brightness, and are often presented to those starting out on a new path in life. Bougainvilleas can also make for a superb gift for those who were born between October 23rd and November 21st, as they are associated with the star sign of Scorpio.