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Shrubs or trees; often with long, clambering branches, sometimes armed with simple or apically forked, supra-axillary spines, glabrous or pubescent. Leaves alternate; petiolate; blade broad, entire. Inflorescences axillary or terminal cymes with pseudanthia consisting of an involucre of 3 persistent, leafy, coloured bracts, each (in the Guianas) bearing a bisexual flower with its pedicel adnate to the midvein. Perianth tubular, tube subterete or 5-angled, limb 5(rarely 4)-lobed, lobes induplicate-valvate; stamens (4-)5-10, included, filaments somewhat unequal, capillary, connate at base in a short cup; ovary stipitate, fusiform, slightly laterally compressed, style subterminal, short, filiform or subclavate, straight or slightly curved, included, partially or completely papillose. Anthocarps fusiform, coriaceous, 5-costate; seed with thin testa adherent to pericarp, embryo uncinate, cotyledons incumbent, enclosing mealy endosperm, radicle descending.


Guianas present, Southern America, tropical South America present
Approximately 18 species, occurring in Central America and tropical South America; 2 species cultivated in the Guianas.


Commerson (1727-1773) discovered and collected a specimen of Bougainvillea in Brazil, while accompanying the explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville (1729-1811) on a portion of his circumnavigation of the world in 1766-1769. Commerson suggested that the new genus be named after Bougainville, and when specimens from the trip had been sent to A.-L. de Jussieu in Paris, the latter botanist described the genus in 1789.