With ghostly bracts that look like wings, the bat flower is a unique addition to any home gardener's collection. With a little extra care, this conversation starter can grow very well in Florida.
Native to southern parts of Asia, bat flower (Tacca spp.) has shiny, bright green leaves. It blooms on a stem from the center of the plant, with a cluster of purple flowers in the center. Above these flowers are two bracts (leaves that resemble flower petals) that look like bat wings. Numerous threadlike bracteoles hang from the flowers resembling 8-10 inch long whiskers.
Most common is the black bat flower (Tacca chantrieri); its wing-like bracts are a deep purple. A more recently introduced species, white bat flower (Tacca integrifolia) has white "wings."
The flowers should be left on the plant and allowed to decline naturally. They do not do well as cut flowers and decline rapidly once cut.
Bat flower will start to bloom after it has produced at least two leaves and may bloom up to 8 times in one season. It typically blooms in Florida from late summer through the fall.
This plant is considered a collector's item and can be difficult to find in garden centers, but is sometimes sold as a specialty item around Halloween. Bat flower can be grown in similar conditions that orchids are grown in: ample humidity, strong airflow, and low to moderate light. In these conditions, it can do very well outside, but can also be brought in as a houseplant.
Planting and Care
Bat flower likes to be planted in a wide, shallow pot with very rich and well-draining potting soil. It prefers a potting media that contains 50% pine bark, 40% peat moss, and 10% sand, or similar combinations.
When bat flower is outdoors, it should be placed in shade. Indoors, it should be in bright, but not direct, light. Most gardeners have had better success with locations that have plenty of good air circulation.
Keep the bat flower's soil consistently moist; a saucer beneath it will help insure this. Fertilize with a soluable orchid fertilizer bi-weekly or with a slow release fertilizer as needed. This plant requires a humid climate to survive; when grown indoors it will appreciate being misted with water regularly.
Repot root-bound bat flower in the spring after it has flowered, but before new growth occurs. It will thrive with fresh soil each year.
Bat flower can be propagated from tuber or rhizome division and occasionally from seed. When repotting in the spring, you can take a division to start a new plant. Older, larger rhizomes can be trimmed of leaves and roots and put back into their original pots.
Bat flower seems to be mostly pest and disease free; although snails and slugs do occasionally bother it.
Properly maintain and care for your bat flower and you'll be the talk of the neighborhood each fall with this unusual, extravagant flower.
For more information on bat flower, contact your county Extension office.