Ever wonder how plants get their names? Some just don’t seem to fit when you first hear them. But then you think about it, and bam – it’s right on! Take flowering maple, for example. The plant sure does have wonderful flowers, but it isn’t actually a maple. (Heck, it’s not even a tree.) But if you take a good look, you’ll notice the plant’s lobed leaves look a lot like the foliage of many maple trees. So its name actually fits.

Flowering maple flower

Many flowering maples have beautiful sepals, like the dark purple ones enclosing these coral petals.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

Abutilon hybrids

These hybrids show the range of bloom colors that flowering maples provide.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

Abutilon variegated leaves

Flowering maples are often cherished for their variegated leaves.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

Abutilon megapotamicum

Abutilon enthusiasts seek out rare and unusual species and hybrids.

Photo Credit: Felder Rushing

In fact, flowering maples (Abutilon and other species) are tender shrubs that are used as annuals. The plant’s showy flowers are similar to hibiscus blooms, and they come in shades of white, yellow, orange, pink or red. (The big difference between hibiscus and many flowering maples, however, is that flowering maples have down-facing flowers that never fully open.)

Flowering maples come in all shapes and sizes. Some have large, outward-facing blooms, while most have small, pendent ones. Growth habits also vary greatly: Some varieties are vining, some are shrubby and tall, and others remain short and happy all their lives. Their height, which depends on the cultivar, varies from 1-6 feet, although most plants average around 1½-3½ feet tall.

No matter which you choose, flowering maples need full sunlight (or give them just a teensy bit of shade). Make sure they’ve got good garden soil, too. They combine beautifully with a variety of plants. Consider mixing Abutilon with white and yellow plants, oranges and blues, or shades of red in your garden. (Depending on bloom color and leaf variegation, flowering maple might clash with hot pinks and muddy purples.)

Another great way to use this plant is in containers or hanging baskets. In fact, hanging baskets are terrific for the small-flowered varieties because they bring those beautiful blooms much closer to eye level. And if you’re wondering how to combine them with other plants, I’d have to answer, “Don’t bother.” Flowering maples can have a spreading growth habit, so they tend to take over a hanging basket or container. Another reason is that the foliage and flowers are so beautiful, you simply don’t need anything else.

In my opinion, the best flowering maples have variegated foliage. Some, like Abutilon ‘Savitzii’, have leaves that are mostly cream-colored with just a little green. Another Abutilon beauty is Abutilon pictum ‘Thompsonii’, which has green leaves splashed with yellow. (Both typically have orange or yellow flowers.)

Flowering maples aren’t hard to care for, but they don’t suffer dry periods well. The plants do require regular watering (especially if they’re planted in clay pots or coir-lined baskets), so pay close attention to moisture levels when it heats up.

Don’t let its name fool you – flowering maple is one fantastic annual with both beautiful foliage and flowers. It may not be as tall as a tree, but what it brings to the garden is just as huge!