Saturday, December 18, 2010


Arguably the most dramatic flowering plant to grace the corridors of the Phoenix metro area is Bougainvillea, a tropical shrub introduced from rain forests of South America. I decided to learn a little more about them, and found some fun historical references associated with their name, which was given in honor of this fancy dressing French admiral.

Admiral Louis Antoine de Bougainville is well regarded in his homeland as the first Frenchman to lead a sailing expedition around the world between 1766 and 1769. In addition to having a spectacular tropical plant named in his honor, the admiral’s legacy includes several south Pacific islands, ports and straights, plus 13 ships in the French navy that have celebrated his prestige on their transom. The circumnavigation was also historic for being the first to include professional naturalists and the first woman known to sail around the world as members of the ships’ crew. Historians still question the strange liaison between the expedition’s botanist, Philibert Commercon, and his valet, Jeanne Bare, whose true identity as a woman was supposedly not known until the ships landed in Tahiti, where perceptive natives instantly recognized him as a her. Bougainville’s travelogue, Voyage Autour du Monde (Journey Around the World), was influential to philosophers and artists of the time who transformed his descriptions of Tahitian society into ideals and iconic images of the Noble Savage.

Kobayashi, K.D., et al. 2007. Bougainvilleas. OF-38, Cooperative Extension Service, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, Univ. of HI, Manos.

Forster, H. Jan. 2000. Voyaging Through Strange Seas: Four Women Travellers in the Pacific. National Library of Australia News.


Jackijo said...

I really do like them and have two nice ones. The thorns and I have a duel once or twice a year, but other than that they give me greenery, beautiful red color, and require practically no water. My rabbit also likes to play hide and seek with me under them.

Chris Webb said...

Interesting to learn the history of the name, thanks. Seems most people in Phoenix pronounce it the Spanish way, including myself. Wonder how it would be pronounced in French.