There are some plants with common names that are much more descriptive than the botanical name. The Abutilon is a case in point. Look it up in any book and you will find it with a whole host of appealing and evocative pseudonyms - Chinese lantern, Indian mallow, Parlour maple, and Flowering maple. Abutilons are quick-growing, decorative shrubs, small trees, perennials and annuals which are evergreen and always full of flowers. Their lantern or bell like flowers are quite distinctive and range in colour from white, pink and yellow to orange or red often with deeper coloured veins. The leaf shapes also vary, the most attractive being the heart and maple shapes. The variegated variety is particularly striking.
This showy shrub that was once favoured by the Victorians is coming back into fashion.
The reason why these upright growing, neat shrubs are being rediscovered is that they make attractive, free-flowering garden specimens and are ideal for low maintenance gardens. Abutilons grow easily and quickly in most types of garden soil, preferring positions that receive full morning sun.
They need regular watering in summer and to be kept moist in winter. Give them a good application of fertiliser in spring and then once after that during the growing season so that the foliage doesn’t develop at the expense of the flowers. I prune the abutilons in my garden in early spring, mid summer (ie January) and again in April. They are always in bloom so one has to be ruthless with the secateurs as this encourages dense growth and masses of blooms.
Abutilons can be used instead of trees in small gardens, as the mature plant is about 2m high and wide. Some, like the variegated Abutilon pictum ‘Thompsonii’, can even be trained as a small tree. The lobed maple like leaves and orange flushed, salmon pink flowers make it quite a garden feature.
Abutilon megapotamicum from Brazil is a more prostrate, trailing variety and can be used as a ground cover or to cascade over walls. I also train those in my own garden over obelisks and trellisses. It spreads about 1,2 m, has deep green heart shaped leaves and yellow flowers with red calyces and blooms for nine months of the year.
For those interested in medicinal plants the root, leaves and bark of Abutilon indicum contain properties that soothe and protect the mucous membranes of the respiratory and urinary systems. A decoction of the root can be used for bronchitis as well as a mouthwash for toothache and sore and infected gums.
We started off the season with "just too many abutilons!" It seems that demand has exceeded supply; hence a short supply of just too many varieties. We will update as new stock comes into the nursery.