Abutilons: the Best Parlor Maples
By: Mike Darcy
Container gardening has always been a big part of my garden. and years ago what started out as a small grouping of pots on our deck, has continued to expand. Now I have about 150 containers throughout my garden. The plant selection varies, and I am always removing something that did not perform as well as expected by adding something new. However, even with all the changes, some things remain consistent and one of the constants is my fondness for Abutilon. I cannot remember a time when I have not had at least one Abutilon in a pot.
The common name for abutilons is parlor maple or flowering maple because the leaf has a maple shape and the plants grow well indoors or outdoors. Abutilon can also be called Chinese lantern because of the pendulous, lantern shape of the flowers. Species are native throughout the subtropics and tropics worldwide and most are evergreen. Some of the prettiest are from the Americas.
The Best Abutilons
The sizes, shapes, and colors of Abutilon flowers are quite variable. Some flowers are bell-shaped and face downward, while others are more open and face outward. Their blooming season is long, and once they begin to flower, they will continue to do so throughout the summer and into winter, if you bring them indoors. They come in shades of red, pink, yellow, white and/or orange. South American species are specially adapted for hummingbird and bat pollination.
The large, open, 2-inch flowers of Abutilon ‘Moonchimes’ are a delicate primrose yellow. The compact plants reach 2 to 3 feet and have dark green foliage. This is a lovely variety for summer containers.
Abutilon ‘Red Tiger’
My all-time favorite Abutilon is ‘Red Tiger’. The flowers on ‘Red Tiger’ almost look like a stained glass piece. The yellow flowers have scarlet-red veining, and the design is so intricate that it almost does not look real. It is definitely a conversation piece in the home or summer garden. If you have not grown Abutilon and are going to try one plant, this would be my choice!
Abutilon ‘Souvenir de Bonn’
The cultivar ‘Souvenir de Bonn’ has leaves that are edged in cream and pendulous, orange, bell-shaped flowers. This is a reliably good bloomer, and with the contrasting leave color, it makes an outstanding container plant. I suggest giving this one some protection from the hot summer sun.
The leaves of Abutilon pictum ‘Thompsonii’ are green flecked with yellow patterns. This is a vigorous species that originates from Brazil can reach 6 feet, where hardy. Its orange flowers veined with red are no less beautiful and stand out against its unique leaves.
Abutilon megapotamicum is sometimes referred to as ‘Trailing Abutilon’ because, with pruning, it can be kept almost prostrate. The flowers are small but abundant and have large, red calyces and yellow petals. If left to grow where hardy, without trimming, this Brazilian native can reach up to 8 feet and is in constant bloom.
The Abutilon cultivar ‘Nabob’ has always performed well in my garden. It is tall, reaching 8 to 10 feet, where hardy, with very dark red flowers that attract hummingbirds. The leaves are very dark green.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, Abutilon is not reliably winter hardy, but if the winter is mild, the plants will often survive as perennials and new shoots will emerge from the ground in the spring. Most survive in USDA Hardiness Zones 8-10. I would not consider outdoor potted plants as winter hardy, so I treat them as annuals if they are not brought indoors. And, if they survive winter, then that is a pleasant spring surprise.
Abutilon is fast growing and new shoots will be in bloom by summer. My pots get varying degrees of sun and shade. Some get full sun all day, and others receive full shade and some a mix of sun and shade. I have found that Abutilons seem to be very adaptable and thrive in full or partial sun, but they do not want to be in full shade. For pots in full sun, I plant them in Black Gold Waterhold Cocoblend Potting Mix because it is excellent for retaining moisture on a hot summer day. For pots in a partially sunny location, I plant them in Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix.
Abutilons are very easy to start from cuttings and that is an easy way to carry over plants from year to year. Take new tip cuttings, dip them in rooting hormone, place them in a moist potting mix, and they will root in no time. Pot them up and keep them indoors in bright, indirect light to keep them happy while they winter over. Whether in indoor containers or in the ground, abutilons make superb blooming plants.
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