How is bougainvillea related to Jeanne Baret, the first woman to circumnavigate the globe? Bougainvillea, the Rest of the Story.
Bougainvillea, and the Rest of the Story
I thought bougainvillea was a nuisance plant. It grows like a weed here in Southern California. I once had a bougainvillea near the walkway leading to my door in Riverside when I first went to work overseas. The plant grew wild and literally blocked the entrance to the home. My parents had to cut a way through the bush to clear a path for the poor postman (and my tenant!).
I later began to appreciate the qualities of bougainvillea in Malaysia and the Middle East. It just needs a little love and attention. It can be a house plant for anyone who doesn't like other people (nasty thorns!). Likewise it can be a fence. I like to think of it as a colorful tree. It is very easy to grow.
What we like about bougainvillea are the leaves. Not just any leaves, but the bracts. Bracts on the Bougainvillea are the brightly colored, paper thin leaves. They surround three small pale flowers.
Bougainvillea make great Bonsai trees. I recently saw examples at the Huntington Botanical Gardens. Here is a like to how to make your own bougainvillea bonsai: https://www.bonsaiempire.com/tree-species/bougainvillea
Propagation of Bougainvillea
Find your favorite variety in the neighborhood, cut a stem, stick it in the ground. It is that easy. No wonder it is found all over the world. But how did the that happen? Blame those darn European explorers.
During an age of scientific exploration in the 1760s, the French and British sent expeditions to collect biological specimens from around the world. The collections were both physical and with art. The expeditions were not nice meet and greets and often included intimidation of the locals. Hence the fate of Capitan Cook.
On one of the French journeys, the botanist was Philibert Commerson. He and his assistant were given the captain's cabin on a store ship, the Étoile. This gave Commerson the space he needed for his equipment and the luxury of a private bath.
The privacy was important, as his assistant was Jeanne Baret, a woman and his companion. Baret was disguised as a woman. Women were forbidden on French naval vessels. Baret took care of the often sick Commerson. While in Rio de Janeiro, the ship's chaplain was murdered. Though officially confined to the ship, she managed to collect plants, including a colorful vine.
She continued to collect plant specimens in Patagonia and on islands in the Pacific. However in Tahiti, she was outed as a woman by the locals.
First Woman to Circumnavigate the Globe
Eventually the expedition dropped off Commerson and his companion in Mauritius, where they continued their plant research. After Commerson's death, Jeanne Baret became a business woman and married a French soldier.
The newlyweds returned to France where she had inherited property from Commerson. She also received a stipend from the French navy and recognition as the first women to circumnavigate the globe in the writings of the expedition's leader.
The colorful vine she collect in Rio? She and Commerson named it after the leader of the French expedition, Louis Antoine de Bougainville
Now you know the rest of the story.