Bougainvillea, a strikingly beautiful plant seen in abundance in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, derived its name from Louis Antoine de Bougainvillea, an admiral in the French Navy that encountered these plants in Brazil in 1768 and described their beauty to his fellow Europeans when he returned home.
Bougainvilleas are rapid growing plants that produce white flowers year round in sunny warm climates and Vallarta perfectly meets their requirements by providing approximately 320 sunny days per year with an average annual temperature of 78°F. Being deciduous, they do fine without much watering during the seven month dry season in Vallarta from November through May, when there is virtually no rain. As thorny vines, they seem content growing up, horizontal or even hanging down and can reach out or up almost 40 feet.
It’s almost impossible to go anywhere in Vallarta without seeing bougainvilleas growing profusely. They are everywhere along the roadside, can be spotted on the Sierra Madre hillsides, act as potted plants or serve as ornamental shrubs around almost every casita and villa, are all over the golf courses, and are around all public areas of interest. Bougainvilleas can be seen hanging over walls, from terraces, and from window sills in every Vallarta neighborhood. Because they are so dense with foliage and prickly thorns, they are ideal for and routinely used as colorful hedges along walkways and between lots.
Now we ask, if all their flowers are white, why are these plants so beautiful and colorful? The answer is that it’s not their flowers that have drawn our attention, it’s their bracts! All bougainvilleas have small white trumpet shaped flowers in clusters of three, surrounded by three or six brightly colored bracts. These bracts are actually modified or specialized leaves, generally slightly smaller than the green foliage leaves and their purpose is to attract pollinators. In the case of bougainvilleas, these bracts can be pink, magenta, purple, red, orange, yellow, white, or a combination of colors. Poinsettia is another example of a beautiful plant, where the bright red color that we’re familiar with at Christmas time is actually the Poinsettia bract and not a flower.
In Vallarta there are numerous tours that are taken on a daily basis by thousands of cruise boat passengers and other visitors. They include Safari tours, Canopy tours, Jungle tours, City tours, etc., all of which have many beautiful sights to see with “photo ops” galore. One common “photo op” that can be seen on all these tours is the dramatic sight of Bougainvilleas near every subject of interest.
Another tour where Bougainvilleas can be seen at every turn in the road is the Home tour, where visitors are escorted through selected homes in Vallarta’s finest neighborhoods. The cobblestone roads, white and pastel colored villas with their red tile roofs, the incredible hillside views of the city and Banderas Bay, and of course the magnificent tropical foliage with Bougainvilleas around almost every home, provide these tourists with a day full of unforgettable sights.
Puerto Vallarta currently has more than a dozen world class golf courses with the construction of more underway. They are all magnificently manicured courses, some rolling throughout the foothills of the Sierra Madres, others along the shore of Banderas Bay or the Pacific Ocean. Aside from having absolutely perfect weather conditions for golf for eight months of the year, these courses have one other thing in common; they are all beautifully adorned with strategically positioned Bougainvilleas. Typically, when visitors play the golf courses around Vallarta, they will take a number of photographs of the scenery and it will invariably include Bougainvilleas. The standard comment is that it’s exactly what one would expect to find in Paradise! Of course, their comments may differ a bit immediately after spraying a tee shot out of the fairway and into one of the magnificent Bougainvillea bushes with their thorny branches and profusion of bracts and leaves hanging down to the ground, making their ball virtually irretrievable!
Included with the gorgeous and infinitely differing evening sunsets, the Guadalupe Church, the sand sculptures on the beach, and the bronze sculptures on the malecon, the colorful Bougainvillea bracts are among the most photographed topics in Vallarta. If you bring a camera to this tropical Paradise, make sure you’ve got plenty of spare memory or film because it’s quite easy to get carried away taking pictures before you’ve seen it all!
If you’re fortunate enough to be one of the 50,000 North Americans living here, the next time a visitor to the area comments on all the beautiful Bougainvillea flowers, you can be a real smart aleck by informing them that what they’re admiring are actually bracts; that all Bougainvillea flowers are white!