HOW TO GROW ABUTILON

5 deg C/41 deg F

The shrubby abutilons are often called flowering maples, because of their maple-like foliage. The hybrids offered by most seedsmen are particularly good. Sown in March, they will make fine flowering specimens by June and have beautiful veined cup-shaped flowers in a range of colours. Some newer hybrids have the flowers borne erect, so that they point outwards, whereas many older types had more drooping blooms. The plants flower very freely, often continuing well into winter. If the young plants are stopped (the main growing tips removed) they become more bushy. but this delays flowering. Old plants may become very tall and have to be cut back. although it may be best to discard them and sow more. Give the plants good light or slight shade. They are not particularly fussy or prone to any special troubles. and deserve to be more extensively grown as they are very easy. Quite different is A. megapotamicum from Brazil, and it is quite happy in cool places. This plant looks delightful when trained in the roof of a conservatory, but it can be kept compact by growing it up canes or strings. The very attractive. dainty, pendent flowers are contrastingly coloured in red and yellow, and beautifully shaped.

There is a form with green and cream mottled leaves, best bought as a rooted

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cutting in spring. Both are very easy and suitable for either a bright position or slight shade. A. megapotmnicum can be pruned back to a convenient size in May if it becomes too tall or straggly. Several other abutilons are worth trying as houseplants. The Brazilian A. pictum (syn. A. striatum) is a shrubby species that can be kept to about 90cm (3ft) if grown in pots, but will much exceed this if put in a conservatory border. It is rather more tender than A. mcgapota-tmcum, and has deep green lobed leaves and crimson-veined orange Sowers about 4cm long from early summer to late autumn. A plant often wrongly catalogued as A. thompsonii is actually a form of this species. It has smaller foliage variegated with a yellow mottling. A.xnulleii can be grown up canes to a height of about 1.2m (4ft) if kept in relatively small pots. Given more root space it will reach at least double this height. It is very similar to /. megapotamicum, but again is more tender. The flowers are red veined and orange yellow, rather like A. pictwti and borne over a similar period. The foliage is large, with green and yellow mottling. The species A. vilifolium will be of interest if you have a cold porch or entrance hall. It is fairly hardy, only suffering damage during severe winters, but in a sheltered place tends to grow vigorously. It can be trained up canes or a wall trellis. The lobed leaves are covered with whitish hairs and the verv attractive

flowers have widely opening petals about 5cm (2in) across. There are mauv-ish and white forms. With the exception of the last mentioned species, which is easier to grow from seed, the abutilon species are easily propagated from cuttings. Abutilons are of special interest because the variegation of the leaves is believed to be caused by a virus, although this is a case of a virus serving a useful purpose and it does not seem to have any harmful effect. Abutilons are not especially prone to troubles, but aphids and whitefly may attack.

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