How Poisonous Is Bougainvillea Plants?

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Bougainvillea is an evergreen perennial that is one of those plant genera you didn’t know you needed until you’ve seen one. 

It’s from the Nyctaginaceae (four-o’clock) family and is commonly cultivated in South Florida, Arizona, South Texas, and Southern California. 

Flowering BougainvilleaPin

Bougainvilleas make excellent container plants and can be trained as a shrub or sprawling groundcover. They are also widely grown on trellises and in a hanging basket.

Due to colder climates and colder zones, people grow bougainvillea in pots or baskets throughout most of America. These established bougainvillea vines can withstand a light frost. 

However, in warm climates experiencing full sun, these plants are often used as attractive security, privacy hedges, trellis climbers, or protective fencing.



There’s no denying the appeal of these year-round shrubs, woody vine, or trees and their wide variety of colors in South America, even if the experts can’t agree on just how many species there are.

Of course, the big concern with any ornamental plant, especially those that can be grown indoors, is whether or not Bougainvillea is poisonous or toxic.

Related: Details on Bougainvillea Plant Care

Is Bougainvillea Poisonous?

The answer to this is both yes and no.

In small amounts, ingesting bougainvillea vine or bougainvillea blooms, the actual flower, is considered harmless, but some people do have more severe reactions.

Vibrant pink bougainvillea against blue sky.Pin
Photo Credit: Instagram @barbgolfholland

Different Parts, Different Risks

Your bougainvillea is generally considered nontoxic, but some parts may cause health issues.

The foliage is generally considered nontoxic. But are bougainvillea flowers poisonous?

What appear to be the petals of the bougainvillea flowers are actually modified leaves called bracts. Bougainvillea colorful bracts are not considered poisonous to humans.

Bougainvillea sap is known to cause skin problems similar to poison oak or poison ivy in some individuals and may cause side effects when ingested.

People also often ask, does bougainvillea have thorns?

Yes. Bougainvillea plants have thorns. The long arching branches of bougainvillea are thorny, and caution should be taken to avoid direct contact with them, as they can cause injury.

Bougainvillea thorns are also toxic, so it is important to handle them with care. The bougainvillea thorn poison is also known to cause a reaction in some people.

Bougainvillea and Adults

Generally speaking, bougainvillea is completely harmless to adults.

There is some minor risk in some individuals of an allergic reaction or dermatitis when coming in contact with the sap, but this risk may be mitigated by wearing gloves while handling the plant.

Similarly, gloves will reduce the risk of getting pricked by the plant’s thorns.

Orange bougainvillea flowers with purple backdrop.Pin
Photo Credit: Instagram @leneervig

Bougainvillea and Children

Children are a little more susceptible to negative effects due to their smaller size and larger curiosity.

Ingesting parts of the tropical plant (especially in large quantities) may result in diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting.

Children playing near the plant may get pricked by the bougainvillea thorn, which is known to cause dermatitis and other reactions.

Bougainvillea and Pets

Is bougainvillea poisonous to dogs? Is bougainvillea toxic to cats?

The ASPCA doesn’t include bougainvillea on its list of toxic plants for either cats or dogs.

Ingesting one or two leaves won’t harm your pet, although it may cause nausea or other symptoms like upset stomach, vomiting, or diarrhea in larger quantities.

As with children, the bigger risk is with the thorns and sap.

Cats and Dogs are less likely to get themselves pricked, but snacking on the stems may expose them to the sap.

Pets are less likely to have a skin reaction than children, but it can still happen.

Be sure to consult with a vet if your pet is showing signs of a reaction to the plant.

Related: Fertilizing Bougainvillea

A Note on Bougainvillea Thorns

Chances are, you have at least one thorny plant growing somewhere nearby, but bougainvillea takes this defensive measure one step further.

The plant’s thorns are sharper than rose thorns and can easily scratch or prick.

Light purple bougainvillea flowers, green leaves, nature-focused.Pin
Photo Credit: Instagram @alpenaloha

Unlike roses and similar thorny plants, however, bougainvillea thorns have a waxy coating at the tip, which is designed to cause irritation. This causes some people to consider getting rid of their Bougainvillea plant.

Most healthy individuals won’t notice any reaction.

Children and those with more sensitive skin may develop a reaction to this substance.

Here are Bougainvillea thorns poisonous symptoms:

  • Itching
  • Pain
  • Rash
  • Swelling at the puncture point
  • Tenderness

These symptoms are usually not severe, but a few individuals have been known to have more severe allergic reactions.

In such cases, a pricked finger may swell enough to become stiff or immobile.

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