Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Abutilon vitifolium album

Abutilon vitifolium album | Vine-leaved Abutilon, Indian Mallow

Beautiful white flowers borne in profusion grace this tall, fast-growing shrub from Chile. Abutilon vitifolium album is a vigorous shrub growing to about 3.5cm tall. It bears white flowers (sometimes pink-tinged when young) in spring, whereas the species Abutilon vitifolium usually has lavender flowers. In warmer climates, this plant prefers dry shade, so I grow it under the protective canopy of a large tree. 

Warning: the stems are covered with tiny bristly fibers that can be a source of irritation to skin and eyes. Handle with care, especially while pruning. Avoid pruning in windy weather the fibers are easily blown.

Historical Reference:June 30, 1957. A shrub which has given me great delight over at least four weeks of flowering is Abutilon vitifolium, but before praising it let me list its drawbacks, always the more prudent method. First, it is not a plant for harsh climates. Given a sheltered angle between walls or hedges, it will survive a reasonable winter in the southern and, of course, the southwestern counties, but would not like being planted in the open in some bleak spot of the Midlands or East Anglia. Second, it is not very long-lived, and may die abruptly, leaving a painful blank. Third ―no, there seems no third objection to set against it, so now I can come on to the praise.

As its adjectival name suggests, it has a vine-like leaf, of a pale greenish-grey, thickly clothed in May and June with five-petalled flowers either of pale lavender, the colour of Parma violets, or a pure white with golden anthers. You must decide for yourselves, which you prefer, the mauve or the white. Having a predilection for white flowers I gave my heart to the white, a ghostly apparition seen by moonlight. The flowers are rather like a single hollyhock, which is comprehensible since the abutilon belongs to the malvaceae or mallows, but it also suggests a resemblance to the tall Japanese anemone, if you can imagine a Japanese anemone deciding to turn itself into a shrub.

It will grow 10ft. high or more, quite quickly; and although it has this unfortunate habit of suddenly dying, it can easily be kept going by its own seeds which it produces in the usual squandering quantities Nature thinks necessary. A few seeds sown in a pot should supply enough young plants to replace their grandmothers. Seeds may come true, but one has to take the chance of getting the mauve or the white form, always rather an exciting experiment to see what one is going to get.

Abutilon vitifolium comes from Chile and was first introduced into Ireland in 1836, so it has been quite a long time in our gardens. A lovely cool-looking shrub for the spring months or early summer, I would recommend it every time. I think it ought to be well placed, against a dark background if possible, say a dark hedge to show up the pallor of the silvery leaf and the flower. A great deal depends on the right placing of any plant, as I always try to emphasize in all these articles.·

   Even More of Your Garden (In Your Garden)
   by V. Sackville-West

(Editor's Note: From 1946, the writer Vita Sackville-West wrote a gardening column for The Observer. These articles were later compiled to form a series of books, showing Vita's extensive gardening knowledge, her intense passion for the subject and her lively literary flair.)