On the Bougainvillea and Mitigation

Bougainvillea bract

Mit-i-gate verb: make less severe, serious or painful.

Removing a dead bougainvillea is a slow deliberate process. It must be done carefully to prevent bloodshed. Vicious thorns found on every twig and branch attack with little provocation. My removal method is to work from the outside in, cutting small pieces of twigs that will fit easily into the large trash can. Then I cut short lengths of the larger branches. I learned that trick the last time I had to remove a bougainvillea. You see, this is not my first rodeo with the bougainvillea plant. This job is so distasteful to me that I even did my taxes first.

The bougainvillea is a beautiful thorny plant native to South America often used in landscaping along the Texas Gulf coast. It doesn’t need a lot of water and blooms without much attention at all. The flowers are really quite small, but the surrounding specialized leaves called “bracts” give the bougainvillea the vibrant shows of color. Thick hedges of bougainvillea are sometimes used as security fences around homes deterring unwanted intruders. The vine versions can easily grow four stories high. And that growth can occur in a short period of time. My bougainvilleas grew over seven feet tall and seven feet around in one year. They normally flourish in this area, but we have had two cold winters in a row. After the freezing weather of 2012 killed one vine, I foolishly replaced it with another. This winter was even colder than last winter. That replacement bougainvillea is the one I am removing now, very carefully one branch at a time.

Bougainvillea thorns

Bougainvillea thorns


If I was out in the country and were the plant not so close to my fence and garage, I would be tempted to take a flame thrower to it. There is no way to grab the plant without getting stuck by a thorn. I’m sure it would be satisfying to burn the thorny thing down. But I have this nagging fear that the thorns will become flame hardened and get me anyway. So here I am clipping one twig and branch at a time and then using the clippers as a claw to manipulate the cutting into the trash can much like Homer Simpson manipulates the radioactive capsules at the reactor. Care must also be taken to remove any cuttings that fall on the ground to prevent thorns from penetrating shoes and feet.

Yes, this is a hazardous assignment. Even after some close calls I am unscathed, although there is still half to go. I’ll keep the band-aids close at hand.

So what does this have to do with mitigation?

I am mitigating this situation by planting something different this spring. Exactly what will be planted hasn’t been decided. I do know that it will be something without thorns. And that new plant will have to form a screen. The bougainvillea was doing a great job of hiding a worn section of fence next to the garage. So in addition to planting something new in that spot, I’ll need to replace a section of fence. That will mitigate a painful letter from the homeowners’ association.

So, mitigation can take many forms. It might be something as complicated and expensive as making sure emergency generators are located in safe locations. Or it might be additional training so employees know what to do in an emergency. Or it might be as simple as planting a non-thorny shrub.

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