A potted plant with large bell-like flowers and large, fuzzy green leaves will be probably a flowering maple, sometimes known as a parlor maple (Abutilon x hybrida). Hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 and 10, abutilons are broadleaf evergreens often grown as houseplants. Regardless of the common name, abutilons aren’t true maples, but members of the mallow (Malvaceae) plant family. Flower colors range from white through shades of yellow, orange, pink and red.
When grown in containers, hybrid abutilons develop 2 to 4 feet tall and equally wide. Grown in-ground inside their hardiness zone, they are much larger, growing 8 to 10 feet tall. The bell-like flowers have five petals apiece, using a central staminal column, much like that of its relative, the hollyhock (Alcea rosea), hardy in USDA zones 2 through 10. The plants also feature large, lobed maple-like leaves which are covered with fine, soft hairs. Some varieties keep green leaves, while others feature leaf variegated in cream or yellowish.
Many types of hybrid abutilon are commercially available. “Kentish Belle” (Abutilon x hybrida “Kentish Belle”) comprises golden orange blossoms, with dark green leaves veined in purple. “Golden Fleece” (Abutilon x hybrida “Golden Fleece”) bears yellow pendant blossoms and green leaves which may be maple-like or heart-shaped with serrated edges. The closely related pictum species (Abutilon pictum), hardy in USDA zones 8 through 10, features many of the same characteristics of the hybrid abutilons. Thompson’s range (Abutilon pictum “Thompsonii”) is differentiated by green leaves splashed with yellow.
Abutilons should be increased in sunny situations, though in warm climates, they appreciate morning sun and light afternoon shade. Containerized specimens thrive in well-drained potting mix, but must be kept consistently moist. Because the plants’ stems tend to be weak, it’s important to pinch or clip the tips of young shoots. This practice spurs powerful, shrubby growth, making the abutilon more compact and full. Outside their hardiness zone, abutilons must spend the cold months indoors in bright light away from heat sources. The plants can be grown in their organic shrubby form, or trained into tree (standard) form.
Abutilon Landscape Uses
Potted abutilons can serve several functions in both outdoor and indoor landscapes. On a porch or patio, one specimen might may an attractive little focal point, particularly mounted on a plinth or hardy plant stand. A pair can be used to flank a doorway, path entry or flight of steps. In garden beds and borders, containerized specimens might be used throughout the growing season in order to add colour and fill “holes” left by fading perennials or annuals. Interior groups of abutilons shine in conservatories or used as single specimens in bow windows or other bright sites.