I have always loved oriental poppies — their generous size, papery consistency, and vivid color. However, I’ve never managed to keep one alive as a houseplant. Then one day I met a flowering maple (Abutilon spp.), with its maple-like leaves and poppy-like flowers, and my destiny was sealed.
Meet the Flowering Maple
Flowering maple plants are utterly enchanting, and I am surely not the only one who fell immediately in love. I first planted one in the backyard in San Francisco where it thrived, growing bigger and spreading over the next few years. I would run out to see it every morning, take my breakfast outside to eat where I could see it, and take photos of it at least once a week.
When I trimmed the plant in spring, I tried rooting the cuttings. I just tucked the cut stem ends into pots filled with damp soil and waited to see what would happen. What happened was that every single cutting rooted and turned into a new plant. I gave some to neighbors, some to friends, and ended up with just a few at the end of the summer. I brought them in and placed them by my sunniest window, and that’s where they remained – abutilon houseplants that flower all year long.
Still In Love
I am still in love with these plants. Abutilon are small, upright shrubs that never seem to stop flowering. The flowers hang down like little Chinese lanterns. Their arching branches bend under the weight of all the blossoms. The flowers are mallow-like, as papery as poppies or hibiscus blossoms and with a lovely range of colors.
My abutilon flowers are the shade of ripe Fuji persimmons, a rich, flame orange, and although they are not as large as some oriental poppies, my plant offers many more blossoms and blooms all winter long. In addition, the leaves – lobed deeply like maples – are a pleasure to look at too. There are other, fabulous colors as well. You can get flowering maples that blaze yellow, red, and even two-tone blossoms, or flowers that have darker, contrasting veins.
Caring for an Indoor Flowering Maple
In my experience, abutilon is just as happy indoors as outdoors. The plant likes warm weather, ideally at least 65 degrees F. (18 C.), and that’s just what they get indoors. They require well-draining soil and some sun, but a few hours a day are sufficient. This works well for me since I only get a few hours of direct sun, and that is only in one room of my house.
What about water? Flowering maple needs water of course, but I am careful not to keep its saucer dry and dump it after watering. I have read that these houseplants thrive in a humid bathroom, but since mine has a window the size of a sheet of paper, there just isn’t enough light to give it a try.