Plant Profile – Abutilon (The African Hibiscus)

For my final Plant Profile, on this week's GardenLine email tip, I would like to introduce you to a wonderfully durable, yet unusual blooming plant known as Abutilon. There are a few different varieties, and the main one I would like everyone to first become familiar with is the Abutilon known as "Marilyn's Choice".

First, in the order of full-disclosure, I will self-admit that I totally butchered the spelling of this plant on that April run on Channel 11's Great Day Houston. In my defense, there's not a lot of written material on the plant, and so I kind of phonetically produced a name that I thought sounded good: Albutiron. But I'm now secure in the knowledge that the African Hibiscus that this plant comes from is well-known as the Abutilon. (Ah-Byew--tuh-lawn)

Marilyn's Choice Abutilon (Abutilon sp. 'Marilyn's Choice')
naThe "Marilyn's Choice" version, which is probably the most popular at independent nurseries and garden centers, has a great story behind it. This very special Abutilon was found on an old church site in Lafayette, Louisiana. The property had been abandoned for many years and was badly overgrown, but held both history and great potential. Marilyn's husband purchased the property as an anniversary gift for his wife.

The couple set about clearing, cleaning, and restoring the property and the old church, which is now used for special functions. They approached the clearing with great care, making sure to preserve heirloom plants and plants of interest as they went. Among their finds was a beautiful large abutilon. Marilyn shared cuttings with Heidi Sheesley of Treesearch Farms, Inc. and Heidi began to propagate the lovely plant, naming it 'Marilyn's Choice' in her honor.

This large shrub produces 2-inch, bell-shaped flowers. As you can see by the picture, I often refer to the bloom as a "petticoat bloom". They have a red calyx on top and a yellow "petticoat" below giving them the appearance of a dancer's skirt ready to twirl across any dance floor. 'Marilyn's Choice' averages 4-feet tall and grows in sun or light shade.

There are several other Abutilon's being propagated by Treesearch Farms, which also brings up a reminder we have hit upon several times over the last several weeks of these plant profiles: In order to find one of these great Abutilon's, you have to find a nursery or garden center that orders plants from the wholesale grower Treesearch Farms. The final interpretation of that is that you're never going to find these wonderful plants at a mass merchandiser or big box store. At the end of this week's message is a short list of those nurseries or garden centers that have carried plants from Treesearch in the past. This does not automatically mean they have these Abutilon's in right now, but it does mean they can get them for you from Treesearch in a matter of days.

Magic Lantern Abutilon (Abutilon sp. 'Magic Lantern')
naThis non-stop bloomer can be expected to be evergreen in mild Houston winters or if grown in a protected location. 'Magic Lantern' has characteristic maple-like foliage and is covered with 2-inch flowers from spring through fall. The flowers look like bright orange Chinese lanterns.

'Magic Lantern' responds well to pruning if one wants to keep it as a large shrub, but is more spectacular trained as a small, multi-trunked "tree". It averages 6-feet tall and prefers full sun although it will bloom in light shade. This is a tough, easy care plant.

Candy Corn Abutilon (Abutilon megapotanicum)
nana'Candy Corn' is another wonderful find from a private Louisiana garden. Red and yellow, lantern-like flowers bob and dance on the elegant, arching stems of this unusual abutilon throughout the summer and fall. In mild winters, or protected locations, Candy Corn will be evergreen in Houston.

'Candy Corn' is very versatile. Left alone, it eventually grows into a 3-foot x 3-foot sprawling mound of color, but it is spectacular trained in a 3 to 4-foot "tree" form where the flowers can really show off. It can also be trained as a short climber, makes beautiful hanging baskets, and works well in containers or trained on supports in the garden. It responds well to pruning for a lush, fuller look and prefers full sun or light shade.

All of these Abutilons are favorites with hummingbirds and require well-drained soils. And you can feed them hibiscus food.


The Arbor Gate (Tomball)
Buchanan’s Native Plants (Heights)
Another Place in Time (Heights)
Enchanted Forest (Richmond)
Enchanted Gardens (Richmond)
Buds & Blossoms (Cypress)
Maas Nursery (Seabrook)
Alspaugh’s Ace Hardware (Kingwood)
Kingwood Garden Center
Plants for All Season’s (Northwest)
Nelson Water Gardens & Nursery (Katy)

Randy Lemmon is the host of the GardenLine radio program on Newsradio 740 KTRH. Randy has been doing GardenLine in one capacity or another since December of 1995, for all three of the now Clear Channel AM stations - KTRH, KPRC & KBME. When Randy took over GardenLine, he replaced long-time Houston radio veteran and GardenLine originator, Bill Zak. For those who remember that far back, GardenLine was a weekly radio staple on KTRH from 10 a.m. to Noon Mondays through Fridays - along with a Saturday show as well. Now GardenLine is heard exclusively on Newsradio 740 KTRH on weekend mornings.