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They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and this is undoubtedly the case with the bat flower, Tacca chantrieri.
To some, it appears as a nightmarish cluster of flanges and tassels akin to a rabid vampire bat. To others, it is a demure bloom of indulgent colour and striking form.
But whatever you think about Tacca, you cannot deny that it is remarkable (and weird!).
Oddity in the undergrowth
In the wild, the bat flower can be found haunting the jungle depths of tropical Asia. It is an understory plant, bathed in the shade and high humidity of the forest floor.
The plant has luxurious, glossy leaves which catch the few rays of light which penetrate the canopy and they are a feature in themselves. However, they merely serve as a stage for the bizarre blooms.
The leaves resemble some of the larger forms of peace lily available as well as those of Eucharis, the Amazon lily.
The bizarre bat flower family
The black bat flower bloom comprises of dark purple-brown bracts with central eye-like true flowers and a spray of whiskers, which can hang down over a foot in length. The plant is also called the bat-head lily, devil flower or cat’s whiskers.
T. integrifolia is the spectral cousin to T. chantrieri with ghostly pale bracts, lurid purple flowers and whiskers and is usually referred to as the purple or white bat flower.
It would be a disservice to describe the blooms as orchid-like – there is no orchid quite like Tacca and the plant is, surprisingly, related to the yam vegetable (family Dioscoreaceae).
Tacca can set seed without pollination, which is just as well as no specific pollinators have been identified for this flower... yet!
Horror in the home
You would imagine such a spectacular plant as the bat flower to be limited to botanical gardens, growing as a curiosity. But it is, in fact, possible to grow at home.
Bat flowers grow from an underground rhizome and can be bought as a dry tuber or as a growing houseplant.
Light: As the plant grows beneath dense vegetation it prefers lower light levels. Direct sun will scorch the leaves, but indirect light or being placed near a north-facing windowsill would work nicely.
Heat and humidity: The understory of a jungle has very stable temperatures, so try to avoid large ranges; position away from direct heat sources and keep above 55°F (12°C).
This is the tuber of the green-flowered Tacca leontopetaloids, also known as Polynesian arrowroot.
These plants love high humidity to match the warm environment so regular misting will help keep humidity levels up. Draughts and dry air spell doom.
Watering and feeding: If growing from a tuber then keep watering to a minimum at first as you don’t want rot to set in.
Even as the plant grows to maturity keep an eye on watering, it’s better to allow the growing medium to dry a little between waterings and don’t allow Tacca to stand in water.
Encourage flowering with a balanced monthly feed.
For some easier to grow houseplants:
SpiralisPlantsMonkey Leaf - Houseplant - 6cm Pot - Monstera adansonii leichtlinii
PlantsByPostPrayer Plant - Houseplant - 12cm Pot - Maranta Leuconeura
PlantsByPostRabbits Foot Plant In Heart Ceramic Pot - Houseplant - 12cm - Maranta Leuconeura
SpiralisPlantsWax Flower 'Krinkle' - Houseplant - 12cm Pot - Hoya Carnosa ‘Krinkle’
PlantsByPostKrantz Aloe In Eve Off White Ceramic Pot - Houseplant - 12cm - Aloe arborescens
PlantsByPostMoney Plant - Houseplant - 12cm Pot - Crassula Ovata
Ne-ne ne-ne ne-ne ne-ne... bat plant!