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What is a Flowering Maple?

By Nick Doniger
Updated May 17, 2024
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The flowering maple, also commonly called a "Chinese Lantern," is a South American shrub that was introduced to Europe and North America in the 19th century. Flowering maples, which are not actually true maples at all, are enjoyed as indoor plants due to their colorful flowers. They are capable of sustaining a wide variety of climates, generally preferring temperate areas and bright sun. The signature mottled coloring on flowering maple leaves is the result of a type of harmless plant virus.

The flowering maple also goes by the Latin name Abutilon striatum. The word "striatum," which is Latin for striped, refers to the veins in the petals of the plant's flowers. Such flowers range from warm yellow, orange, and red shades to various shades of blue. The shrub is referred to as a flowering maple due to the similarity in shape between its leaves and those of maple trees.

In fact, the flowering maple is very different from the true maples. Flowering maples are shrubs belonging to the Malvaceae family. Other plants in this family include mallows, hibiscus, cotton, and okra.

The origins of flowering maples lie in Brazil, though they are also found in other parts of South America. In the 19th century, the plant was introduced to temperate regions of Europe and North America, both due to its aesthetic appeal and its resistance to damage from mild frosts. Being shrub-sized, flowering maples were enjoyed by Europeans and Americans as indoor plants, as they had a tendency to grow tall and strange in shape if kept outside untended.

Despite originating from hotter climates, flowering maples generally prefer temperatures close to 70 degrees Fahrenheit (about 21 degrees Celsius). These plants can, however, sustain a wide variety of environmental conditions. In more temperate climates, the plants prefer full sunlight, whereas they prefer light shade in hotter climates. Heavier watering is necessary for the plant to thrive in higher heat. Growers recommend that flowering maple plants are pruned regularly in the spring or fall, as smaller shrubs tend to produce more flowers.

It was discovered in the early 20th century that the mottled coloring commonly seen on flowering maples' leaves was being caused by a viral infection. The infection, known as Abutilon Mosaic Virus (AMV), could be transmitted through the flowers' seeds to other plants as well. It appeared, however, that AMV caused no significantly harmful effect on the growth of this or other plants. The discolorations caused by AMV became part of what many growers considered to be part of the plant's visual appeal.

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Discussion Comments
By QuirkyMango — On Dec 14, 2014

I have flowering maples growing as shrubs in my yard. They are evergreen plants, and each year have such beautiful flowers. My mother wanted to grow them, but she lives in a cooler climate, so she grows her flowering maples in containers and uses them as patio plants.

She has to take them indoors in winter to keep them safe from freezing temperatures, but she can enjoy them out on her patio each spring until frost.

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