Chinese Lanterns

Abutilons or Chinese lanterns are closely related to hibiscus, and most of the hundred or so species have pendulous, hibiscus-like flowers. Cultivars produced by hybridising some of the South American abutilons have all been placed in one group known as Abutilon x hybridum, and these are the ones most commonly grown in Australian gardens. They have a wispy, delicate form and colourful, lantern-shaped flowers. For gardeners who prefer plants with a more dense habit, new compact varieties are also available. Another popular abutilon is Abutilon megapotamicum, which is a prostrate or ground covering species with small orange flowers. There is also a variegated leaf form, Abutilon megapotamicum ‘Variegatum’. Megapotamicum means ‘from the big river’ referring to the Rio Grande in Brazil.

Plant details

Common name: Chinese lantern
Botanical name: Abutilon x hybridum
Description: Evergreen shrubs with attractive maple-like leaves and an open, pendulous habit. They grow to about 2-3 metres (6-10′) tall. Flowers are produced in September to December, but they spot flower at other times. Flower colours include white, pink, red, yellow, orange and salmon.

New compact varieties:

Abutilon ‘Goblin’
Hardy, dwarf growing shrub to 1.2 metres (4′) high. The small lantern-shaped flowers have carmine-red hoods, red petals and brown stamens. Long flowering, drought tolerant.

Abutilon ‘Golden Bell’
Dwarf Chinese lantern growing to only about 80cm (3′) tall. It produces masses of deep rich yellow flowers for most of the year.

Abutilon ‘Halo’
Hardy, dwarf growing shrub to 1.2 metres (4′) high. Flowers have corn-coloured petals and golden stamens. Flowers for most of the year.

Best climate:

Abutilons grow well in most parts of Australia, except for the very cold mountain zones. In inland areas be sure to water well and keep protected with mulch. In hot inland climates abutilons appreciate some light shade.

Best look:

cottage garden shade garden shrub border where dense screening is not required tub

Good points:

arching, delicate and graceful handsome foliage, and some forms like ‘Souvenir de Bonn’are variegated long flowering season

Downside:

can become untidy and leggy like hibiscus, abutilons are members of the Malvaceae family, and are also subject to attack by Hibiscus beetle and Metallic flea beetle. These pests make holes in leaves and flowers and are difficult to control with pesticides.

Care:

A full sun position is best, but abutilons will also flower in part shade. They like a rich, well drained soil and a cool root run. Water well and mulch. Avoid heavy feeding as abutilons are inclined to produce foliage at the expense of flowers. Light prune to shape toward the end of winter in frost free gardens. Leave until early spring in frost-prone areas.

Getting started:

Abutilons are readily available at nurseries. Plants in 200mm (8″) pots cost around $14.

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