Plant This: Abutilon, or flowering maple

Does your central Texas garden need a boost in late winter? Then add a few flowering maples and enjoy colorful, lantern-like blossoms that either hang pendant or are held horizontally on short stems. Large, maple-shaped leaves are a bonus, especially if you choose a showy, variegated variety.

Long thought of strictly as houseplants north of the tropics, abutilons popped up several years ago in local nurseries for outdoor plantings. Here in Austin’s hot-summer, mild-winter zone 8b, they seem to do best in dappled shade or brief morning sun. Exceptionally cold weather will kill them, so even in Austin it might be a good idea to grow them close to the house for a little more protection. I wouldn’t classify abutilon as drought-tolerant, but it does surprisingly well even in the dry dappled-shade of my live oaks with once-a-week irrigation in summer. Abutilon blooms best in cooler weather—late winter through spring and again in the late fall. Don’t look for blossoms during the summer.

I’ve tried several cultivars or hybrids, including ‘Souvenir de Bonn’, a veined, orange-blooming abutilon with pale-yellow edging on the leaves. It has grown quite tall (about 5-1/2 feet), and I think I will prune it back by half when blooming slows down with summer’s approach.

I also have several of this unnamed pink, from Barton Springs Nursery, which tops out at about 2-1/2 feet.

I tried this prostrate, two-toned variety called ‘Candy Corn’, but it didn’t survive the hot, droughty summer of 2011.

Similar-looking but upright and dependable ‘Marilyn’s Choice’ was my first abutilon, and I still grow several of these.

Another commonly seen abutilon in Austin is ‘Patrick’s’, with large, golden-orange blossoms marked with prominent, red-orange veins.

Here’s a lovely abutilon, name unknown, that I photographed in James David’s garden a number of years ago. As you’d expect, his is sited particularly well, its skinny, flamingo-like “legs” hidden behind a trough fountain, allowing the leaves and blossoms to arch over the top.

I’m trying a new abutilon soon, a salmon-orange hybrid called ‘Bartley Schwarz’, which I’ve ordered from Plant Delights. I hope it does well.

Are you growing any abutilons, either indoors or out? If not, what are you waiting for?

Note: My Plant This posts are written primarily for gardeners in central Texas. The plants I recommend are ones I’ve grown myself and have direct experience with. I wish I could provide more information about how these plants might perform in other parts of the country, but gardening knowledge is local. Consider checking your local online gardening forums to see if a particular plant might work in your region.

All material © 2006-2013 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

8 Responses

  1. Anna says:

    Wow! What vibrant flowers! This is the first time I’ve heard of it. The Prostrate abutilon looks a bit like a Shrimp plant, but the others look more time Turk’s cap or a Hibiscus. Thanks for the new plant, Pam!

    I’m happy to introduce you, Anna. I hope you get to try a few this spring. —Pam

  2. jenny says:

    You really do have a green thumb. I failed miserably with this plant.

    Hmm, I wonder if it prefers deeper, richer soil than you have, Jenny? And I don’t recall that you have much shade either. Do you think that could be it? I know it’s not because you don’t have a green thumb! —Pam

  3. Peter says:

    Preach it sister! Love abutilons and they do well here in the Pacific Northwest although every 15 or 20 years, we get a freak winter or two that takes them all to plant heaven. Here, they revel in the “heat” of summer.

    Man, I’d love to revel in the heat of a Pacific NW summer too. I feel more of a kinship with abutilons than ever. —Pam

  4. Amy says:

    I’ve never tried abutilons, but I love their tissue-like texture. I’m in zone 7b in piedmont NC, so perhaps I’d need to grow mine in containers. The veining on ‘Patrick’s’ is stunning. I’ll look for that when I make my spring plant-buying run next month.

    Yes, I think growing them in pots would be a smart choice in zone 7b, Amy. You’ll still be able to enjoy them outdoors for most of the year, after all, and then enjoy them indoors during the winter. —Pam

  5. Robin says:

    Pam, I’ve managed to kill every abutilon you’ve listed here – right now, I’m down to only Marilyn’s Choice that remains. It’s so leggy, I’m trying to figure out what to mingle it with so that it will look a bit better – thinking possibly bamboo muhly for next year, letting those blooms pop through the grass (these combinations always look great in my mind, rarely do they work as well as I envision). I wish my pink one had lived, I really liked it. Yours looks great.

    I’m sorry abutilon hasn’t worked out for you, Robin. I’m not surprised that ‘Marilyn’s Choice’ is your sole survivor; it’s the toughest one in my garden too. They can get leggy though. I am going to be diligent in the future about cutting them back hard after the spring bloom cycle. —Pam

  6. Your abutilons look so good, Pam! But mine do not. Even when they occasionally have some flowers the plants are so darned spindly.

    The ‘Marilyn’s Choice’ abutilon has live stems without leaves. The original ‘Patrick’ died from cold so a second one is in a container that comes in for winter. The small Barton Springs pink is also in a pot, now in the garage.

    Now, after reading your post, I realize that my yard doesn’t seem to have >any< places that can give all 3 of what you recommend: some cold protection, dappled light & little direct sun. Oh, darn.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    Spindliness is definitely an issue with some abutilons. While my BSN pinks are full and lovely, ‘Marilyn’s Choice’ and the variegated orange are on the leggy side. I’m going to try to prune them better in future—after the spring bloom cycle—to give them a fuller shape. —Pam

  7. Jacqueline Clemens says:

    Abutilon thrives here in our Sacramento Valley town, Davis CA where summers are hot and dry and winters wet and cold. We love the color and romantic, soft draping foliage. Most varieties, in our experience, require manual removal of spent pods in order to look their best. A previous owner planted a lovely, buttery yellow version with dark sturdy leaves that drops the dead pods so that the plant is as tidy as you could wish for. I wish I knew the variety. We want more!

    That does sound like a beauty, Jacqueline. I never knew there were so many varieties until recently. They’re like potato chips—hard to have just one. —Pam

  8. Linda Blissitt says:

    Hi Pam.
    I live in Friendswood, Texas ( zone 9 b ) and I planted a gorgeous peach colored abutilon right by my front door in May. It blooms continuously!
    I believe it’s becoming my favorite plant in my flower bed!

    How lovely — enjoy! —Pam