Friday, 28 April 2017

bougainvillea boogie

It must be quite edifying to have a plant named after you, especially one as spectacular as bougainvillea. This sprawling, thorny genus is named after Louis Antoine de Bougainville, a French admiral who circumnavigated the world in the 1780s. Species are found in many parts of the world, and they were originally described by his botanist, Philibert Commer├žon, which provides an interesting contrast with another well-known genus, native to Australia, that had been collected and described a decade earlier.

Banksia was named not after Sir James Cook, who captained the expedition on which the first specimens were collected, but after his botanist, Sir Joseph Banks. However, I should point out that the naming is not an egregious example of vanity: the genus was named by Carl Linnaeus, the founder of modern plant taxonomy.

Anyway, the purpose of this post is to provide not a history lesson but a commentary on the bougainvillea displays that I’ve come across lately while out on my bike. Like the firecracker vines and cotton trees, these have been more than usually arresting this year, and here are a few photos to underline the point:

These are the only notable examples that I’ve come across on ‘the final frontier’ bike ride, but another bike ride, ‘the long and winding road’, has been exceptionally illuminating. These photos appear in the sequence they would be encountered on the ride:

The next three photos were taken on the south side of Sha Tau Kok Road. It would be difficult to describe the exact locations—I’m no longer sure of the location of the first photo myself—but note the Ng Tung River on the left in the third photo:

This specimen was spotted alongside the road that crosses the Ng Tung River a short distance downstream from where I live:

…while the next one is located on the inside of a hairpin bend on the road leading to the Ngau Kwu Leng Hiking Trail. I’ve included it because although most of the bougainvillea specimens you see are on someone’s property and are being cultivated, this one appears to have been abandoned to its own devices.

If you’re not familiar with bougainvillea, you will probably think that what you’re seeing are flowers, but this is not the case:

The bright red parts of the plant are bracts, or modified leaves. The flowers are the tiny yellowish white things in the middle. In this, they resemble poinsettia, a good example of which I photographed on the long and winding road last November:

This specimen is about 7 metres tall, which is almost twice the height limit specified by Wikipedia!

You will probably have noticed that all the examples featured so far have had red bracts, somewhere on the spectrum from scarlet to magenta, but bougainvillea comes in other colours too, notably purple:

I couldn’t get any closer to photograph the first example, from near the start of the long and winding road. The second example is from the outside of the walled enclosure of Sheung Shui Wai, while I spotted the third from the narrow path that we use between the Ng Tung River and Sheung Shui.

Finally, I’ve included an intensely coloured example from the village of Ping Kong. The striking aspect of this photo is the contrast between the searing magenta of the bush on the right and the almost complete absence of bracts on the specimen on the left. I can offer no explanation for this effect.


  1. You can't miss the extreme intense brightness of the leaves this year!!!!!!!


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