Who Brought the Bougainvillea to California?

The roots of the colorful plant might surprise you.

Passing into decay is the Bougainvillea vine.
How we miss the splendor of its graceful climb,
It takes us back to Padres, passing to and fro,
Under Mission patios of the long ago.

—Adeline Marshall Durlin, 1922


When things start heating up in Southern California, landscapes come alive with the fuchsia, red and golden tones of the bougainvillea plant. This robust and colorful climber may appear intrinsically part of the Mission style architecture initiated by Spanish settlers, but its roots may have been planted post-statehood.

According to KCET’s Lost LA, “Bougainvillea probably first came to California as seeds or cuttings from its native Brazil by way of Australia in the 1860s, long after the last Spanish flag was lowered over California. By the 1880s it had become a favorite of horticulturalists intent on ‘emparadising’ the region—a process, as Jared Farmer describes in his history of ‘Trees in Paradise,’ of introducing exotic evergreens and multi-hued flowers to correct a landscape they perceived as too barren and brown.”

Frost-intolerant and well suited for warmer climates, bougainvillea thrived from San Diego to Santa Barbara becoming a vibrant, permanent fixture of California scenery.

Read more about bougainvillea’s presence in Southern California here.