One of my favorite plants for Bay Area gardens is Abutilon, commonly known as Flowering Maple or Chinese Bell Flower. In times past, this free-blooming, evergreen shrub was known as the parlor maple because the Victorians loved to display them in their homes.
Abutilon is a large genus of approximately 150 species of broadleaf, evergreen shrubs belonging to the mallow family Malvaceae. The genus is found in the tropical and sub-tropical regions of all continents, especially South America.
Abutilon can be grown almost anywhere as an annual, but in the Bay Area we are fortunate to be able to grow this gorgeous plant as a perennial. The upright, arching plants grow to 8-10 ft. tall and wide, but some hybrids are considerably smaller, and dwarf varieties are available. Broad maple-like leaves are green to yellow-green, and can range from small to large. Drooping bell-like blossoms range in color from white to pink, tangerine, orange, scarlet, and yellow. Abutilon likes warmth, but not a lot of really hot direct sun. Good drainage is essential; Abutilon is quite drought tolerant once established and does not like heavy wet soil.
In addition to offering up beautiful blooms almost year round, Abutilon is a great wildlife plant for the garden. Hummingbirds love the nectar, as do several species of butterflies.
Abutilon tends to become leggy, and requires regular pruning to develop an attractive shape. In early spring, cut back long branches to encourage bushiness. This plant blooms on new growth, so trim it throughout the season to encourage symmetry and better branching. This will result in more new wood and heavier flowering. If you get this right, your plant will produce dozens of flowers at a time. The weight of the blooms will cause the branches to arch gracefully.