We're calling it: flowering maple (Abutilon x hybridum) is the plant that will win your heart this month. Mother nature showered these easy-care shrubs with every possible blessing: arching branches, lovely lobed leaves, and papery blossoms that just keep coming. If we had to vote for our favorite botanical enchantress today, it would be flowering maple, and you are likely to fall for its good looks and easy-care ways too.
The Wow Power of Flowering Maple
The dazzling good looks of abutilon are impossible to ignore. Stand by the display in the garden store and listen for the oohs and aahs.
What's the big deal? Well, just about every part of this flowering plant is enchanting. The stems are slender and upright, and the gracefully arching branches bear broad, soft-textured leaves lobed like maple leaves. That's why abutilon is called flowering maple, although it is completely unrelated to the maple clan. The charm of the leaves alone would make flowering maple a coveted foliage plant, but then there are those enchanting flowers.
You know that crepe-paper texture that is one of the wonders of hibiscus, mallow, and Oriental poppies? Flowering maple blossoms are just as delicate and papery but hang downward like little paper lanterns. They come in the same orange-yellow of California poppies, but cultivars offer many other hues, from bright yellow to lilac to gorgeous tiger blossoms. And the best part: the flowers just keep rolling in, wave after wave of blossoms from spring through fall. In warmer regions, abutilon flower profusely all year round.
Shrubs for Any Climate
Flowering maple hail from semi-tropical regions won't tolerate frost well, but gardeners around the country can still enjoy them. If you live in a frost-free zone like hardiness zones 9 or higher, you can site these shrubs outdoors. In cooler regions, flowering maples grow happily in containers, basking outdoors in the summer sun, then overwintering on a sunny window sill. As long as the room is warm and sunny, those flowers will keep coming.
You can also grow abutilon as an annual, enjoying the blooms from spring to fall, then saying goodbye. This might work well for those in cold-winter climates who want to avoid the worry of moving plants indoors. Pick flowering maple varieties that develop past the first year, like abutilon Lucky Lantern Red & Yellow, a dwarf variety with blossoms in two different colors.
While you may think a plant this lovely has got to be a prima donna when it comes to care, the opposite is true: situated appropriately, flowering maples thrive without too much effort on your part.
With excellent drainage, plenty of sun and weekly watering, these evergreen shrubs will grow rapidly and flower freely. They only need water when the top inch of soil is dry. In-ground plants don't need fertilizer, but container plants should get fed with mild water-soluble fertilizer every few weeks. Avoid overloading your flowering maple with nitrogen-heavy fertilizer. You'll get more foliage but far fewer flowers.
You don't need to prune flowering maples either, but the plants won't mind if you do. Left to their own devices, they can shoot up taller than you are. If you want a shorter or lusher shrub, trim off the top of the tallest stems at a point just above a leaf joint. You can clone your plant by rooting the clippings.
Variations on a Theme
Once you get bitten by the abutilon bug, you'll be tempted to expand your collection, and who can blame you with all the exceptional cultivars on the market? Here are a few of our favorites to consider.
- Abutilon Red Tiger: The pendulous orange flowers have crimson veins that make a tiger pattern on the petals. This is a tall, narrow variety that can grow 4 feet in one season.
- Abutilon Red Princess: Think Scarlett O'Hara returning as an abutilon.
The blossoms are large, flouncy and a vibrant scarlet.
- Abutilon x suntense Violetta: The neverending waves of flowers are a fresh lavender shade, and the leaves are bluish-green.
- Abutilon Chinese Lantern: This cultivar offers brilliant yellow and red flowers shaped like little lanterns on a small plant.
- Abutilon Canary Bird: A rounded flowering maple shrub, Canary Bird produces extremely long, bright yellow blossoms.
Abutilon as Foliage Plants
If you're a blossom lover, the idea of buying flowering maples for the foliage may seem sacrosanct. But those who give preference to the classic elegance of foliage can still love and enjoy abutilon shrubs.
Some varieties of flowering maple have been developed for their spectacular leaves. Note that these also produce the papery blossoms. Here are a few to look for:
- Abutilon Gold Dust: The palmate leaves on this plant are sure to attract attention with their deeply-cut lobes. They are a startling pale green splotched with
yellow dots. The flowers are orange and bell-shaped.
- Abutilon Savitzii: This compact flowering maple has gorgeous variegated leaves, a creamy white with a splash of green at the center. Blossoms are coral colored.
From Alaska to California, from France's Basque Country to Mexico's Pacific Coast, Teo Spengler has dug the soil, planted seeds and helped trees, flowers and veggies thrive. A professional writer and consummate gardener, Spengler has written about home and garden for Gardening Know How, San Francisco Chronicle, Gardening Guide and Go Banking Rates. She earned a BA from U.C. Santa Cruz, a law degree from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall, and an MA and MFA from San Francisco State. She currently divides her life between San Francisco and southwestern France.