Abutilon- inside and outside

Large flowered abutilon
Maybe you noticed some beautiful Abutilons in a greenhouse.  If you didn’t you missed a chance to see and own some of the most exotic and interesting container plants you can grow in your garden or home.   They aren’t winter hardy in many areas but will over winter indoors, continuing to bloom through much of the winter.  Other common names for Abutilons include Chinese Bell Flower, Chinese Lanterns, and Indian Mallow.

Abutilons have been around as houseplants for at least a century, commonly seen as a shrubby house plant known as Flowering Maple.  The abutilons however, are a genus of about 150 species growing in sub-tropical areas of South America and Asia.  They grow as small trees, shrubs and vines.  Recently plant breeders have worked with the various species of Abutilon, improving and hybridizing them to create many exotic, easy to grow varieties you can now find at the greenhouse near you. 

The older tree forms of abutilon still exist but the newer abutilons produced for gardeners tend to form smaller shrub-like plants or spreading hanging basket plants. Abutilons are evergreen- like most tropical plants they keep their leaves all year.  The stems turn woody over time.   Most species are perennial but annual varieties exist.  Some hybrids from South American species will survive temperatures into the teens and growers are working to produce even hardier plants.

There is a wide variation in leaf size and shape and even flower shape among the recent introductions of abutilon.   In some the large, colorful hibiscus-like flowers are the show, in others the beautiful foliage, often variegated, is as showy as the smaller dangling ‘lantern” type flowers.  All Abutilon flowers are attractive to hummingbirds.

The large flowered varieties usually have leaves that are lobed- sometimes looking like a maple leaf.   They can be various shades of green and may be variegated with yellow or white.  Some large flowered varieties though, have smaller, fuzzy, blade like leaves with serrated edges.  The large flowered types have 5 tissue paper-like flower petals shaped like a saucer or cupped, ranging in size from 1½ inches to 5 inches across.  

The large flowered abutilons have a prominent pistil and stamens in the center and resemble hibiscus or mallow flowers. Flowers usually dangle, facing downward.  Flower colors are usually warm colors such as reds and yellows, but white, pink and lavender varieties exist.  There are some hard to find double flowered abutilons on the market.

Small flowered abutilons are usually hybrids of Abutilon megapotamicum.  The flowers have a large calyx- (a thicker version of sepals) - on the back of the flower from which the flower petals protrude beneath, producing the “lantern” look.  The calyx is often a contrasting color from the petals.   Usually the colors are reds, yellows and oranges but some pastels exist.  The lantern type flowers are 1-2 inches long.

Small flowered varieties of Abutilon usually have small leaves but at least one large maple leaf type variety exists.  Many small flowered Abutilon have leaves that are heavily variegated with gold or white.  The lantern types tend to have wiry, arching stems from which the leaves and flowers dangle and make beautiful hanging baskets.

Growing Abutilon

Gardeners will generally start with plants.  Abutilons can be started from seeds, although northern grown plants rarely produce them.  It takes two years for most Abutilons to bloom from seed.  Abutilons will also grow from cuttings. 

Do not put Abutilons outside until all danger of frost has passed and bring them inside in the fall before frost.  They can be planted directly in the ground and treated as annuals; however you can bring potted plants inside in the fall for a blooming houseplant.  The larger flowered varieties hold their blooms better if protected from wind.
Small flowered variegated abutilon
Abutilons prefer partial to full sun in the garden and a sunny window indoors.  Use a loose, light potting soil.   For best bloom Abutilons need regular feeding.  Use an extended release fertilizer for flowers or fertilize with a liquid fertilizer every two weeks.  In the house stop fertilizing November through January and let the plant rest a bit.

Abutilons need regular watering, particularly the large plants in hanging baskets.  If they get too dry they may drop their leaves but may recover if watered in time.   Do not over water in the winter, soggy soil will kill them.

Trim off any damaged or spindly growth.  Abutilons can be pruned to control size as some plants will get as large as 6 foot high and wide.  If you want the plants to grow larger replant in a slightly larger pot each spring.

Some varieties

Canary Bird’ is an older, small shrub form with large, canary yellow flowers and large leaves.  ‘Cannington Peter’ is similar but has dark red flowers and yellow variegated leaves. ‘Violetta’ is a large - 6 foot - plant with large violet to indigo blue flowers.  ‘Voodoo’ has 2 inch blood red flowers.  ‘Hawaiian Ma’o’  is a large upright with 1 inch golden yellow double flowers.  ‘Tennant’s White’ has huge white flowers.

Souvenir De Bonn’ is a tree-like Abutilon with large maple leaves variegated with white and orange lantern type flowers.  ‘Paisley’ is a hanging basket type with small triangular dark green leaves heavily spotted with gold and dangling red and yellow lantern flowers.  ‘Pink Charm’ has green leaves and pastel pink lantern type flowers. ‘Fools Gold’ has small fuzzy green leaves and 2-3 inch lantern type flowers of gold with dark orange veins.  ‘Savatzii is a dwarf type with almost white leaves, salmon orange flowers.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Granny,

    I am an Abutilon Freak! I had 18 2 years ago, and lost many to a bad winter here in Oregon. So sad. I now have 7. Nebob, Thompsonii, Tiger Eye, Sunset, Souvenir de Bonn, one I think is Suncrest, but I can’t find a picture on line, and the old ‘mother’, that has been here 5 years, Orange Hot Lava! Yesterday, I discovered a flower that looks like Ginger Bomb on the Suncrest plant!!! I was wondering if you have ever found a different colored blossom on one of your plants, or ever heard of this? Thank you, Maribeth