Thursday, 1 December 2011

Bougainvillean variations



I could find only one link to botany in the collection of scientific souls competing for attention beneath the Pantheon in Paris. The French respect their intellectuals of course, and our subject shares the giant basement under Foucault's oscillating pendulum with the likes of Messrs Voltaire, Hugo and Curie.


As you might have guessed by the first photo, I'm talking about Louis Antoine de Bougainville, who lived from 1729 to 1811. He sailed around the world in 1766 (arriving back in Paris three years later), claiming the Society Islands (including Tahiti) for the French.


While Bougainville was still circumnavigating the planet, his friend Philibert Commer├žon named a Brazilian climber with showy bracts after this already famous Admiral. Bougainvillea was introduced into cultivation in Europe in the early nineteenth century and I gather thanks to Kew Gardens soon became popular throughout the world.  

As for Louis Antoine himself, I don't know that he had any great love of plants, but I stand to be corrected (you know where the 'comment' button is!). However I can give you one, slightly tenuous, link between the Bougainville family and botany. Louis Antoine's son, Baron Hyacinthe, visited Sydney's Botanic Garden in 1825 and for the full tale of romance and intrigue by Pamela Mawbey take a look at the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust, Sydney website.

Since this is becoming almost a Fugue, one further variation. The picture of Bougainvillea at the head of this blog was taken in March 2004, while visiting the Xishuangbanna Tropical Flowers and Plants Garden in southern China. The Garden is not far away from the 900 hectare Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, China’s largest botanic garden. The Flowers and Plants Garden, however, is not considered by locals botanists to be a botanic garden.

It's a beautiful garden, with most plants named and labelled, sometimes with a bit extra about their economic use or value. But because the plants are not wild sourced and the record keeping poor in comparison to the Botanical Garden, and the research (agricultural and essential oils) limited in scope and quantity, my Chinese colleagues refereed to it as ‘only a Bougainvillea garden’. Could be worse!