Flowering maples are a group of tender perennials with colorful, bell-shaped flowers.
Flowering maples are a group of tender, evergreen perennials often used as seasonal annuals or houseplants in the Midwest. Sometimes also collectively referred to as Chinese bellflower or Chinese lantern – or just abutilon, flowering maples were popular during the Victorian era, later fell out of favor in the gardening world, but have returned to modern gardens in a plethora of forms.
The leaves are palmate, varying in number and depth of the lobes.
The genus Abutilon is a large group of flowering plants in the mallow family (Malvaceae) with over 200 species occurring throughout the tropics and subtropics. They range in height from 18 inches to 10 feet, and may be herbaceous perennials, shrubs, or small trees. The plants used as ornamentals are often A. x hybridum, a group of hybrids between A. darwinii and A. striatum, or cultivars of other species, such as A. megapotamicum and A. pictum. These plants get part of their common name from the resemblance of the foliage to maple leaves. The plants are unrelated to maples (Acer spp.) but do have palmate leaves often with deep, pointed lobes and/or serrated edges. The leaves may cause mild dermatitis in susceptible individuals.
Abutilons are small shrubs, often grown as annuals in cool climates.
They are upright, branching plants—often with brittle stems—and some varieties have a structure reminiscent of a Japanese maple. They are low growing woody subshrubs that acts as herbaceous perennials in colder climates, supposedly hardy only in zones 9-11, but will survive in some colder areas as long as the plants have excellent soil drainage.
The generally solitary, pendent flowers are borne on long pedicels from leaf axils or near the branch tips on the current season’s growth. The lantern-like buds open to cup- or bell-shaped flowers up to 3 inches in diameter.
Solitary, pendent flowers are borne in the leaf axils and branch tips.
All have a calyx and corolla with 5 parts, with overlapping papery petals fused at the base, opening to various degrees from trumpet shaped to nearly flat. The flowers have staminal columns typical of the mallow family, with multiple stamens fused into a column lined with anthers, and a branched style with head-like stigmas inside the tube (very similar to that of its relative the hibiscus). The species generally have yellow or orange flowers, but others have red or pink petals with a darker center.
The lantern-like buds (L) open (C), to reveal a central staminal column typical of the mallow family (R).
Many are attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds. Hybrids rarely set fruit, but the species produce hemispherical pods (schizocarps) with multiple segments, each containing a few seeds.
Flowering maples can bloom year-round.
The species tend to bloom most prolifically in summer and fall, but modern hybrids have been developed to bloom nearly year-round. Flower color has been expanded by breeders as well, with flower colors ranging from white to reds, yellow, orange, coral and bicolors.
Abultilons can be grown in containers on patios and decks.
Flowering maples are a great addition to annual or mixed beds or borders, The can be used alone or with other plants in containers, such as patio pots or window boxes. They work well in hanging baskets, where it is easier to see the downward facing flowers. Flowering maple can be grown as a multi-stemmed shrub or pruned as a standard for a more tree-like effect, and many types can even be used for espalier. The variegated forms may be grown more as foliage plants than for their flowers.
Grow flowering maple in full sun or partial shade. They grow in almost any type of soil as long as it is well-drained and evenly moist, doing best in rich soils. Plants will struggle if allowed to dry out too much. They typically do not have any significant insect or disease problems outdoors, but indoor plants are susceptible to the most common insect pests including aphids, mealybugs, scales and whiteflies, as well as spider mites.
Regular pruning will keep flowering maples compact and promote blooming.
Flowering maples are easy to grow in containers and overwinter indoors. If given sufficient light, many will continue to bloom through the winter. They do best in a bright, sunny location, but prefer relatively cool temperatures (60’sF). Containers can be moved outdoors after the last frost, and should be moved back indoors before the first frost in the fall. Keep evenly moist during the growing season, but reduce watering indoors in the winter but avoid letting the plant dry out completely. Fertilize regularly starting in late winter when growth resumes, and stop in the fall. Some people recommend monthly fertilization, while others suggest every other week with half strength solution. Repot in the spring every year or two, using standard soilless potting medium. Moving to a larger pot will allow the plant to grow larger, so if space is limited just repot in the same size container.
There are numerous cultivars of flowering maple in many different colors.
These plants have a tendency to become leggy and without regular pruning they can grow into a scraggly shrub. To maintain a dense, compact form they need to be pinched regularly. This will also promote more blooms as they only flower on new wood. Pinching, pruning and keeping a plant slightly root bound will help control its size. Major pruning should be done in early spring or late fall. Cut back branches selectively to shape the plant, making the cuts just above a node or on a strong, vigorous shoot near the plant’s base.
Abutilon species can be grown from seed (it may take a full year before they begin blooming), but cultivars and hybrids are propagated by softwood cuttings taken at any time of the year. Bottom heat will speed rooting. Tip cuttings can be taken in late summer to overwinter instead of keeping the entire plant.
Hundreds of varieties have been developed over the years. Some of the more commonly available abutilons include:
- ‘Bella’ series – blooms early with large flowers on compact plants (to 15 inches) in shades of apricot to orange, pink and deep red.
- ‘Bellvue’ Mix – blooms early with large flowers in vivid shades of red, orange and yellow
- ‘Canary Bird’ – sports yellow, trumpet-shaped flowers on rounded plants. It was awarded the Royal Horticulture Society’s Award of Garden Merit (RHS AGM) in 1993.
- ‘Kentish Belle’ – is more of a rambler with apricot-yellow flowers with purple stamens on compact plants. It was awarded the RHS AGM in (date.)
- ʻKirstenʼs Pink’ – has lots of soft pink flowers on a compact, upright plant (12-16”).
- A. megapotamicum, from southern Brazil and Uruguay, has small pendent flowers with yellow petals and a large red calyx. It was awarded the RHS AGM in 1993.
Abutilon megapotamicum plant (L), narrow leaves (LC), flower bud (RC) and open flower (R).
- A. × milleri has long, narrow leaves and pale orange flowers with red calyces. It was awarded the RHS AGM in 1993.
An Abutilon with variegated leaves.
A. pictum has toothed leaves with 3, 5, or 7 lobes. The flowers are orange-yellow with dark red veins and protruding stamens. The cultivar ‘Thompsonii’ has yellow mottled leaves.
- ‘Savitzii’ – has extensive cream marbled variegation on the green leaves, but few flowers with salmon-colored petals. It was awarded the RHS AGM in 1999.
- ‘Souvenir de Bonnʼ – has leaves with creamy white edges and soft peach-orange flowers, and will grow up to 3 feet tall. It was awarded the RHS AGM in 1993.
Plants & Flowers
Common name: Flowering Maple, Albution, Chinese Lantern, Chinese Bell Flower
Distribution and habitat: Abutilon x hybridum (Abutilon hybridum) are cultigens, not occurring in the wild. Cultivars produced by hybridising some of the South American abutilons have all been placed in one group known as Abutilon x hybridum.
Abutilon x hybridum is a popular group of hybrids that are semi-tropical, frost-tender shrubs typically growing up to 2-3m (6-10 feet) tall in zones where can be left in the ground year-round. It is an evergreen shrubs with attractive maple-like leaves and an open, pendulous habit.
Description: Abutilon hybridum is the name given to a group of hybrids of mixed parentage.
The common name ‘Flowering Maple’ cames from the shape of its broad, five-lobed leaves, but it is not a true maple. It is more closely related to the Alcea species (hollyhock) and to the weed known as Abutilon theophrasti (velvet leaf).
There are many named varieties of Abutilon hybridum, which can grow up to 1.5m (5 feet) spread and can start to flower while very young. The pendent blooms are usually about 5cm (2 inch) long and bell shaped with prominent orange or yellow stamens and pale green calix (the papery, bract like growth that protects the unopened flower bud).
When given good light and proper care, Abutilon hybridum is producing papery blossoms on drooping stems nearly year-round. Flowers may be red, yellow, pink, orange or peach, depending on variety. Some varieties feature leaves mottled with yellow, but the strongest growers have solid green leaves.
Houseplant care: Abutilon hybridum plants tend toward legginess, so it is important to prune them back by one-third their size in the spring, just before the most vigorous flush of new growth begins. Remove any thin shoots that crowd the centre and reduce other stems by one-third. Also pinch back stems occasionally through the summer to promote a full, bushy shape. Regular pruning makes it easy to keep an Abutilon hybridum less than 45cm (18 inch) high and wide. If an upright plant is wanted to 1m (3 feet) tall, tie long branches to sturdy stakes.
Abutilon hybridum benefit from being kept outdoors in filtered sun during the summer months, but must be returned indoors before frost.
Light: Abutilon hybridum plants need bright light with at least three to four hours of direct sunlight every day. Place the plant to receive the light from a south or west window.
Temperature: This plant grows well in average room temperatures 18-24°C (65-75°F) year-round. Minimum temperature is 10°C (50°F).
Watering: During the active growth period water moderately, enough to moisten the potting mixture throughout, but allowing the top 1.5cm (0.5 inch) to dry out between waterings. In the rest period water only enough to keep the mixture from drying out completely.
This plant needs moderate humidity. Mist foliage with room-temperature water every few days when needed, especially in winter when indoor humidity is low. This practice will help to prevent problems with spider mites.
Fertiliser: Aply standard liquid fertiliser every two weeks during the active growth period only. In winter, feed monthly, as plants grow more slowly.
Potting and repotting: Use a soil based potting mixture. Move plants into pots one size larger in spring. It is best to discard Abutilon hybridum after two or three years.
Gardening: Abutilon hybridum plant stems tend to be weak. Pinch stem tips of younger plants to promote both bushiness and stronger, more compact plants. It can also be pruned back hard in the spring, if size control is needed.
In frost zones, these plants are usually grown as annuals in the garden or in containers.
Location: A full sun position is best, but Abutilon hybridum will also flower in part shade. Best in part shade (a position where the plants receive morning sun) in hot summer climates, particularly for those cultivars with variegated foliage. Foliage may wilt in full afternoon sun.
These plants will not cope so well with full shade as they need sunny spots to bloom over a long period of time (about 9 months per year or even year round).
Soil: Abutilon hybridum plants like a rich, well drained soil and a cool root run.
Irrigation: Water well and keep it protected with mulch. Abutilon hybridum needs consistently moist soils which do not dry out. This plant abhor dry conditions.
Fertilising: Avoid heavy feeding as Abutilon hybridum are inclined to produce foliage at the expense of flowers.
Propagation: Take tip cuttings 8-10cm (3-4 inch) long from the plant in spring or summer, dip the cut end in hormone rooting powder, insert them in small pots in a mixture of equal parts of moistened peat moss and coarse sand or in perlite and cover each pot with a plastic bag.
Place pots in filtered sunlight; cuttings will root in three to four weeks. Thereafter, move them into slightly larger pots of soil-based potting mixture, but keep the uncovered pots in filtered light for another two or three weeks and water just enough to keep the potting mixture barely moist. The plants can then be treated as mature Abutilon hybridum.
Longevity: Plants become woody and unattractive by the time they are 3 or 4 years old, but can be kept indefinitely by propagating stem tip cuttings.
Plant does not bloom when has not enough light or needs additional fertiliser.
Treatment: Move plant to a place where it will get bright natural light half the day. Switch to a high-phosphorous fertilizer. Some plants bloom very little in winter, but vigorous hybrids should bloom year-round with good light and regular feeding.
Flowers and low leaves drop when uneven watering, resulting in some roots remaining dry; also, these drops can be promoted by too much direct sun.
Treatment: Rehydrate pot. In summer, move plant to a place where it will be protected from hot midday and afternoon sun.
Sticky leaves can be caused by aphids; these small insects are present on leaves.
Treatment: Prune plant to remove badly infested leaves. Clean thoroughly with plenty of water every 3 days for 2 weeks. Can be used insecticide soap.
Leaves are pale and stippled with yellow dots and faint webbing appear on leaf undersides. The cause are the spider mites.
Treatment: Isolate plant and and prune off and dispose of badly infested leaves. Clean undersides of remaining leaves with warm, soapy water. Mist daily for a week and see if plant shows signs of recovery. If plant has a stem that is not infested, attempt to propagate its tip, because seriously damaged plants may not be worth saving.
To prevent an infestation of these pests it is important to provide a humid atmosphere around the plants and to spray the plants with water occasionally.
Diseases affecting Abutilon hybridum include: root rot, rust, Alternaria and Cercospora leaf spot.
Treatment: These can be controlled by providing air circulation, keeping the leaves dry and using a fungicide, if necessary.
There is also Abutilon mosaic virus, but the leaf discoloration or variegation is usually considered a feature.
Abutilon hybridum ‘Boule de Neige’ has white flowers with striking orange stamens.
Abutilon hybridum ‘Golden Fleece’ has yellow flowers.
Abutilon hybridum ‘Master Hugh’ has rose-pink flowers.
Uses and display: In addition to being grown in pots or hanging baskets, Abutilon hybridum can be trained to assume a treelike shape by tying the main stem to a sturdy stake and inching off all branches that emerge from the lowest 38cm (15 inch) of stem.
It is also a beautiful addition to cottage garden, shade garden shrub border where dense screening is not required.
Foliage – green
Features – flowers
Shape – bushy
Indoors: 1.5m (5 feet)
Outdoors: 2-3m (6-10 feet)
Watering in rest period – sparingly
Watering in active growth period – moderately
Light – direct
Temperature in rest period – min 10oC max 24oC (50-75oF)
Temperature in active growth period – min 16oC max 24oC (61-75oF)
Humidity – low
Hardiness zone: 10a-11
Flowering Plants, Garden Plants, Indoor Plants, Shrubs Abutilon hybridum, Abutilon hybridum Boule de Neige, Abutilon hybridum Golden Fleece, Abutilon hybridum Master Hugh, Albution, Chinese Bell Flower, Chinese Lantern, Flowering Maple
Growing Abutilon Flowering Maple: Learn About Abutilon Requirements Indoors
The common name for flowering maple houseplant refers to the similarly shaped leaf of the maple tree; however, Abutilon striatum is not actually related to the maple tree family. Flowering maple belongs to the mallow family (Malvaceae), which includes mallows, hollyhocks, cotton, hibiscus, okra and rose of Sharon. Abutilon flowering maple is also sometimes referred to as the Indian mallow or parlor maple.
This plant is indigenous to southern Brazil and also commonly found throughout the South and Central Americas. Shrub-like in appearance, the flowering maple houseplant also has blooms similar in shape to hibiscus flowers. The flowering maple is striking enough to make a lovely specimen plant in the garden or in a container and will bloom from June through October.
As mentioned, the leaves of the houseplant resemble those of the maple and are either light green or often stippled with gold hues. This variegation is the result of a virus first noticed in 1868 and eventually coveted over the solid green tones of other flowering maples. Today the virus is known as AMV, or Abutilon Mosaic Virus, and transmitted through grafting, by seed and via the Brazilian whitefly.
How to Care for Abutilon Flowering Maple
All the rage in the 19th century (hence the name parlor maple), Abutilon flowering maple is considered to be a bit of an old-fashioned houseplant. Still with its lovely bell-shaped leaves of salmon, red, white or yellow, it makes for an interesting houseplant. So, the question is how to care for Abutilon.
Abutilon requirements indoors are as follows: Flowering maple houseplants should be placed in areas of full sun to very light shade in moist well-draining soil medium. Light shade placement will prevent wilting during the hottest parts of the day.
The Abutilon flowering maple tends to get rangy; to prevent this, pinch the tops of the branches in the spring to encourage a more compact habit. Other Abutilon requirements indoors are to water well but avoid overwatering, especially in the winter when the plant is in a dormant phase.
Flowering maple may be used as a container patio plant during warm months and then brought in to overwinter as a houseplant. A fast grower in warm climates, the Abutilon flowering maple is generally hardy in USDA zones 8 and 9 and thrives in summer warmth outside and cooler temps of 50-54 F. (10-12 C.) in winter.
To propagate flowering maple houseplants, use tip cuttings removed in the spring or grow hybrids like Souvenier de Bonn, a 3-4 foot specimen with peach blooms and speckled foliage; or Thompsonii, a 6-12 inch plant again with peach flowers and variegated leaves, from seed.
Flowering Maple Problems
As far as any flowering maple problems go, they have pretty much the usual culprits or issues that afflict other houseplants. Moving the plant flowering maple to another location may contribute to leaf drop, as it is sensitive to temperature fluxes.
Flowering Maple, Abutilon: “Paper Bells”
I am serious when I say that I adore abutilon flowers, for the way they start as closed parasols and then unfurl into pendulous crepe-papery bells. I am also serious when I say that despite my adoration, I always give them a second thought before planting them in my clients’ gardens; it’s important to make sure this is the right plant for the right spot.
Perennial in warm climates, abutilons are stunningly ornamental evergreen shrubs with large lobed leaves that resemble maples. With fantastic dreamy-colored, drooping, lantern-like flowers, abutilons bloom in the sweetest shades of yellow, orange, red, pink, and white. Yellow or white variegated-leaf varieties are also extremely attractive and can brighten up a partially shady area.
Please read on to learn the secrets of planting abutilon:
Above: Abutilon insigne. Photograph by Alejandro Bayer Tamayo via Flickr.
While there are some native abutilons such as California’s Abutilon palmeri, most are sold as Abutilon x hybridum, indicating that they are hybrids. Besides coming in a variety of flower colors, abutilons also come in a range of sizes; there are compact (dwarf) forms growing to 1.5 feet high that are perfect for hanging baskets or containers, and larger varieties that can tower to 12 feet.
Above: A bee at work at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, Arizona. Photograph by Anne Reeves via Flickr.
The secret to making abutilons happy is to grow them in rich, loamy soil amended and top dressed with compost to prevent moisture loss. When I mentioned that it takes me a minute to decide whether abutilons are right for the job, I was thinking about soil quality: consider that first. If you are planting a container garden, it’s an easy “yes” decision because you can control the soil. But if you’re planting a perennial bed and the native soil is lacking nutrients or there is competition from tree roots, then you should choose a different, more suitable plant. Also, if the planting area is burdened by heavy winds or heavy deer traffic, then unfortunately you also should shy away from abutilons. Seeing an abutilon struggle with leaf loss, lack of blooms, and straggly stems is a saddening sight, and so I try to avoid that possibility by carefully considering the sight.