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pronounced: a-BEW-tih-lon aw-RY-tum
(Malvaceae – the hibiscus family)
pronounced: SEE-duh aw-RY-tuh
common name: Asian Indian Mallow
This is a native of Australia and New Guinea. In Australia, it occurs on the Cape York Peninsula, and down the coast as far as south-eastern Queensland. It grows as an understorey plant in monsoon, beach and gallery forests, and also in vine thickets, at altitudes from sea level to about 750 m. There is a cluster of these plants growing by the side of the road in Arcadia, near the beginning of the road to the old jetty in Geoffrey Bay.
It usually flowers and fruits as a shrub between 1 and 3 m tall. The leaf blades are about 14 – 17.5 cm long by 8.5 – 15 cm broad, with the lower surface densely clothed in short stellate hairs; the upper surface is also so clothed, but more sparsely than the lower. 6 or 7 veins, counting the midrib, radiate from the base of the leaf blade. There are narrowly heart-shaped stipules.
The yellow hibiscus-like flowers are borne on pedicels about 2 cm long, with both calices and pedicels densely clad in long white hairs. The calyx is a centimetre long or a little less. Five pale glands are visible on the inner surface of the calyx, close to the base of each lobe. The corolla is a little over 1 cm long, and the petals are joined to each other by the fused anther filaments. The anthers are U-shaped, fused in bundles of 5, and have white pollen. The densely hairy ovary is usually 9 – 12-locular, and there are about 9 – 12 stigmas.
The fruits are silvery hairy, usually 10 – 12 lobed, the calyx persistent at the base. The seeds are flattened, reniform or heart-shaped, about 2 or 3 mm long. A similar species, with more than 12 segments in the fruits, is Abutilon indicum var. australiense.
Abutilons, often known as Chinese Lanterns, are often grown in Australian gardens. These are usually cultivars produced by hybridizing some of the South American species, and placed in the one group known as Abutilon X hydridum. Some of these have very colourful flowers, all hibiscus-like. Another popular garden plant is Abuliton megapotamicum, a prostrate species with small orange flowers. Megapotamicum means ‘from the big river’, referring to the Rio Grande in Brazil. There is also a variegated leaf form of A. megapotamicum.
There is a downside to growing this species in the garden. The plants can become leggy and untidy like hibiscus, and are liable to attack by the Hibiscus beetle and the Metallic Flea beetle, both of which are difficult to control.
Photographs taken in Arcadia 2016
Page last updated 28th June 2019