I don't pretend to be botanically wise. I watch the flowers that I enjoy, but am seldom moved to inquire after their names. It could be that I'm not social. But I do nod in passing to those that please me: golden clarion trumpets, daisies flat-faced and innocent, winking magenta stars and the dear garden that I wrote about months ago and which is now curling up and preparing for its winter sleep.
But there is one type of flower that always gives me pause. Its petals are sheer, tracing-paper shapes, etched with green capillaries. Sometimes they are translucent, gray as pearls; sometimes they are opaque, with fighting colors torn from a dragon's back:
sometimes they are clusters of tiny sunsets, tinted with apricot and coral:
They hang rich and heavy, a living brocade, off vines that leap over walls. They travel like ships with colored sails and wave like a lady's maddening, dainty handkerchief. They grow in gossamer clutches, with hues that insinuate, like the touch of a watercolorist's brush: sometimes these flowers carry only a scent of color. Those are the ones that I like the best of all, because the color moves and grows, like an open vein emptying its life into a clear pool.
I wanted to learn this flower's name. And after some effort I was able to find its nom de bloom. It was born in South America, in the pulsating jungle, amidst lianas and creepers, breathing the thick, heavy air. In the 1760's, an explorer introduced it to the hothouses of France. He was an Admiral, and his name was Louis de Bougainvillea.
So I would like to thank the Admiral; if it wasn't for his efforts I wouldn't be peering into the gathered colors of the many rouged and tinted faces. Nor would I be watching the braids of knitted vines unraveling as if the hand that worked the spinning wheel had grown tired and was silent.