How to Grow and Care for Black Bat Flower

Black bat flower

Rise Liao / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The black bat flower (Tacca chantrieri) is an exotic looking, unusual plant that is somewhat difficult to grow but is rewarding for its unusual shape, texture, and color. True to its common name, the bat flower looks like a bat with its wing shaped bracts and seed pods that look a bit like bat faces. It is an understory plant native to the forests of Asia and Australia and grows best in a semi-tropical environment.

This plant is sometimes also referred to as tiger beard or cat's whiskers due to its long bracteoles that look like whiskers. The purple variety is a dark dusky color that ranges from maroon to purple but often looks black. A white flowering variety (Tacca integrifolia) grows twice as large as the black variety. Dramatic in the garden, bat flowers do not survive long in a vase and aren't good as a cut flower. The bat flower will bloom from late spring through early fall with new blooms appearing repeatedly throughout the season.

Botanical Name Tacca chantrieri
Common Name Bat flower, tiger beard, cat's whiskers, devil's flower
Plant Type Perennial
Mature Size 36 inches tall, 12 inches wide
Sun Exposure Partial sun to dappled shade
Soil Type Fertile, well-drained
Soil pH 6.1 to 7.5
Bloom Time Late summer through fall
Flower Color Black (dark purple)
Hardiness Zones 9b to 11
Native Areas Southeast Asia, Australia

How to Grow Bat Flower

While this is a fairly tropical plant, it does well in some parts of the United States and can be grown successfully in Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and parts of California, wherever there is a moist, warm environment. It might be necessary to create a small micro climate that is hospitable to this somewhat delicate plant. The bat flower is generally not vulnerable to pests, other than the usual slugs and snails one finds in a tropical garden.

Light

The bat flower requires warm temperatures but prefers a shady location. Plant it where it receive indirect light, on the north side of a house, preferably in a setting with additional tropical understory plants.

Soil

Bat flower needs a rich, well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter. Amending soil with peat moss, pine bark, and compost may prove necessary to increase drainage. For container growing, use a rich potting medium with 50 percent soil, 40 percent amendments and 10 percent perlite for good drainage.

Water

After planting, keep the soil moist and water consistently. Bat flowers should not be allowed to dry out for too long, but make sure the planting location has good drainage.

Fertilizer

Black bat flowers benefit from fertilizing. Using a liquid fertilizer suitable for orchids is appropriate, applied every week, or use a general slow release fertilizer.

Temperature and Humidity

Because bat flowers are a semi-tropical plant, they do not tolerate cold temperatures. If the temperature goes below 55 degrees Fahrenheit, bat flowers can die. They are happiest when the temperature is between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. They can also be grown indoors but a consistently moist environment should be provided. Using a plant mister and having a humidifier will help ensure the bat flower gets the moisture it needs.

Propagating Bat Flower

The bat flower plant can be propagated from seeds that have been allowed to dry well, but they will take some time to germinate. Harvesting the seeds from the plant requires waiting until the seed pod has matured and split open.

Bat flower plants can also be propagated from a tuberous root or rhizome cutting. Divide these rhizomes in the fall, and plant them three feet apart. You can also order rhizomes from a catalog. Be patient when propagating because the rhizomes need to reach a large enough size before they will form flowers.

Growing in Containers

It's possible to grow black bat flower in containers. If growing them indoors, locate them near a window with indirect sunlight. They also appreciate decent air circulation, as opposed to a closed greenhouse environment. Don't allow the plant to become root bound; keep an eye on it and repot into a bigger container as needed. Repotting once every year is a good rule of thumb. A wide shallow pot works best. You can put the containers outdoors in the summer, but avoid placing them in direct sunlight.