Many people around the world are familiar with this plant, which is actually a native of tropical Brazil, the bougainvillea. It is a genus of flowering plants that is commonly seen in Latin America, the Caribbean and Southeast Asia because of the similar tropical climate. I’ve often seen this plant in southern California gardens.
The most common ornamental variety of bougainvillea is the paper flower, Bougainvillea glabra. This variety has bracts that look a lot like paper and is the quality from which it gets the name “paper flower.” These bracts come in a multitude of colors from pink to orange to white. In the center of the bracts is the small white flower. The colored parts of the plant which we normal would think of as being the flower is actually not, but does help draw attention to the smaller, inconspicuous flower.
Bougainvillea happens to be a very popular ornamental plant in Thailand. Since this plant requires very little care, many municipalities use it in landscaping. I’ve often seen bougainvillea planted in the center divider of roads. The plant seems to thrive in Thailand’s warm climates. Many times, you’ll see an old abandoned bougainvillea plant with a very thick stem but still thrives in the conditions of Thailand’s climate. Bougainvillea also has thorns as a natural inhibitor to be nibbled on by wandering livestock.
Thais love this plant because it is easy to care for. Often, you can get a cutting for free simply by asking a friend. Thai gardeners are skilled at grafting different colored “paper flowers” to the same root stock so that a single plant will have many colors. They have also developed so many colors of the “paper flower” that some people get addicted to simply collecting the different colors. Some of the plants also have many more bracts than normal and create a stunning puff of color. Additionally, there can be variations in the leaf color such as the normal green and varigated.