Abutilon, also known as Flowering Maple, Chinese Lantern Bush, or Chinese Bellflower, is a native of South America. It naturally grows as a loose, rangy shrub, but can be easily trained into a standard or espalier. If branch tips are pinched, it can be coaxed to form a more compact, full shrub.
All abutilon grow fairly quickly, and will reach heights of as much as 10 to 15 feet if planted in a large enough container. They can easily be kept trimmed to a shorter, more compact size, however. Most have maple-like leaves, and the 2 to 3 inch flowers dangle delicately from thin, arching stems. Colors range from white and pink to yellow, orange and deep red.
All flowering maple are frost tender, so be prepared to move them indoors or to a greenhouse during the cold months. Prune to shape during late winter or early spring, and prune lightly throughout the growing season to encourage branching and a more compact shape.
Abutilon are happiest in full sun along the coast, and with partial shade inland. They require moderate water during the growth and bloom season, water sparingly over the winter.
Abutilon hybridum is the best-known flowering maple, and the most common in nurseries. It has upright, arching growth and can reach heights and widths of 8 to 10 feet. Flowers are white, yellow, red or pink. Abutilon pictum 'Thompsonii' is very similar, but with variegated foliage and orange blooms with red veins.
Abutilon megapotamicum also grows to 10 feet high and wide, with long, rangy branches. Also called Trailing Abutilon. small plants of this cultivar look beautiful in baskets, but will need to be transplanted to a larger container after the first year. These abutilon have narrow, arrowhead-like leaves, and the leaves of some cultivars are variegated.
Abutilon vitifolium grows larger than other forms, to as tall as 15 feet. It has large leaves, 6 inches or longer, with blue to white flowers. This flowering maple can withstand slightly cooler weather but needs high humidity.
Plant your Abutilon in a medium to large container (14” in diameter or more), using a good, fast draining, rich soil-based potting soil. Keep well watered during spring and summer, but not continuously wet or the roots will rot. Water with a compost tea or other liquid fertilizer solution once or twice during the growing season, or spread a thin layer of well-rotted compost on the top of the soil once or twice each season, gently mixing in to the first few inches of soil.
Abutilon are especially beautiful when trained as a standard or espalier from 4 to 6 feet tall. The delicately hanging flowers are especially beautiful when the plant is shaped this way.
The shrubs can be easily cultivated from 5 to 10 inch young cuttings taken in summer. Many varieties are also available by mail order, and can be found at many nurseries in warmer areas.