Variegated Flowering Maple (Variegated Chinese Lantern Plant)
Plant of the Week
Variegated Flowering Maple
Latin: Abutilon hybridum 'Variegatum'
I like variegated plants. It probably indicates a weakness of character or a flawed
sense of taste, but I’ve always found them both beautiful and interesting.
One of the most interesting in the large tribe of variegated plants is the variegated flowering maple, or as it is sometimes called, the variegated Chinese lantern plant. It is a tender houseplant that grows 4- to 6 feet tall and has five-lobed maple-like leaves with long petioles and grow 4 to 6 inches long.
This species is of hybrid origin with most of its kin coming from tropical countries such as Brazil and Africa. It produces drooping, orange flowers in the shape of a 1950’s poodle skirt. The flowers grow to 1 1/2 inches across and have a short, yellowish floral column extending just beyond the outer limits of the petals. The flowers can be produced at any season, but mainly appear during the summer and fall when the high light and warm temperatures are most to its liking.
We seldom intentionally grow sick plants, but that is exactly what we are doing when we cultivate variegated Chinese maple. The variegation pattern consists of yellow-green flecks scattered across the leaf surface creating a constellation of irregularly shaped spots. The cause of the variegation symptoms is a mosaic plant virus called abutilon mosaic, which can be spread to any non-variegated abutilon by either grafting or insects – especially the pesky whiteflies.
Mosaic viruses are common among plants, but are usually more harmful and less beautiful than this particular disease seems to be. Abutilon is vigorous enough to shrug off the effects of the virus and still grow and flower more or less normally.
While the traditional use of flowering maples has been as a window sill plant for winter flowering, it also makes an excellent addition to the mixed flower border where its strong upright growth and yellow-green foliage makes an appealing foil for other flowering plants.
As a houseplant it should have high light and be kept close to room temperature to keep it growing and flowering. It, and many members of the hibiscus family to which it belongs, is a magnet for whiteflies so should be checked carefully before bringing it inside in the fall.
Propagation is easy, and can be done by cuttings or seeds. Seedlings will start off uninfected and have normal green leaves. The virus can be transmitted by grafting or allowing a few whiteflies to swarm from infected to noninfected plants.
By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Extension Horticulturist - Ornamentals
Extension News - January 15, 1999
The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture does not maintain lists of retail outlets where these plants can be purchased. Please check your local nursery or other retail outlets to ask about the availability of these plants for your growing area.