Let's get weird, okay? The white batflower (Tacca integrifolia) might look like a normal plant, right up until it starts to flower. When it does, the plant unfurls some of the strangest and most amazing flowers in the plant kingdom. Beneath the clusters of purplish flowers (described as "lurid" by one botanist) hang long bracts that can reach a foot in length, like whiskers almost. Above the flowers flare two light colored bracts like bat wings.
There is no way anyone can glance at batflower for the first time and not do a double-take. Better yet, these can be successfully grown indoors. The main challenge will be finding them. Oftentimes, specialty nurseries and mail order nurseries are the only viable source of any sort of batflower, including the white batflower.
- Light: Batflowers are native to Asian rainforests, where they grow in the loamy understory, often in deep shade. Indoors, the plants will thrive in bright light, but should not be exposed to direct sunlight.
- Water: Keep the soil evenly moist throughout the year. They grow from rhizomes, but don’t seem to need a resting period.
- Temperature: Moderate. Batplants thrive in temperatures around 75˚F, with plenty of good air circulation. They also enjoy higher humidity, so will benefit from misting.
- Soil: A loose, very well drained, very rich potting mix.
- Fertilizer: Fertilize biweekly during the growing season with a diluted liquid fertilizer or orchid fertilizer. They are heavy feeders and also appreciate the use of controlled-release fertilizer.
Batplants can be propagated from seed or, more commonly, by rhizome division. To propagate from seeds, either hand-pollinate flowers or occasionally the flowers will self-pollinate.
Long seed capsules will eventually emerge; they take a very long time to ripen to maturity. When the capsules split to reveal the seeds, clean them of pulp, dry them, and plant immediately into a sterile seed-starting mix. Most people, however, propagate through rhizome division during repotting.
Repot batplants in the spring, after flowering is complete and before the new flush of growth emerges. Unlike many rhizomatous plants, they dislike being pot-bound and appreciate a wider, shallow pot. During repotting, add controlled-release fertilizer pellets to the mix and, if the plant is well established, take a division to start a new plant. Older, larger rhizomes can be trimmed of leaves and roots during repotting and put back into the original pots.
The Tacca genus of plants is mostly native to Asia, and the plants are considered collector's items for their unusual flowers. During the growth phase, they feature upright, vertically growing leaves that are attractive but unremarkable. The white batflower (Tacca integrifolia) is a relative newcomer to the plant scene. It was preceded by the T. chantrieri, or black batflower. The white batflower grows about twice as large as its cousin (with leaves up to 4' under ideal conditions, but much smaller indoors), with correspondingly larger flowers.
Batflowers are grown mainly for their flowers, which typically emerge during the warmest months of the year. Growers have found that mature plants begin to flower after their produced at least a pair or full-sized leaves, and then will produce up to 8 flowers over the course of a single season. The flowers should be left on the plants—they do not survive in a vase for long and can't really be used as cut flowers. In terms of growing conditions, white batflowers should do well in the same conditions that nurture orchids and many epiphytic ferns, with ample humidity, strong airflow, and moderate light and temperatures. If you're unable to meet these conditions, it's likely the plant will experience a slow decline, but hopefully it'll still provide at least one season of flowers.