How to Grow Bat Flowers
Looking for something different to spice up your Halloween decorations? How about a plant that has a flower shaped like a bat?
What Are Bat Flowers?
Bat flowers are tropical plants that are related to yams. They are native to the forests of Southeast Asia. They are a perennial plants in tropics. Outside of the tropics, they are grown as houseplants. Because they are forest plants, they like shade so they do well in our homes.
Why Are They Called Bat Flowers?
They are called bat flowers because their flowers have two bracts, which are leaves that look like petals, which look like bat wings. These bracts can be 12 inches across. Hanging from the flowers are bracteoles (smaller bracts) which look like whiskers, adding to the spookiness of the plants. The bracteoles can be as long as 28 inches.
The bat flowers that were originally introduced in the Western world were a dark purple which looked almost black, hence their association with bats. They grow 2 to 3 feet tall. Recently a second species of bat flower has been introduced which has white bracts with purple veining and purple bracteoles. These plants are much larger, growing 4 feet tall.
Bloom time for both is July through September. Leave the flowers on the plants. They do not hold up as cut flowers, dying soon after being removed from the plants.
How To Grow Bat Flowers
Bat flowers are not commonly found in nurseries, so you will have to order yours from a reputable catalog. The plants grow from rhizomes. The rhizomes must grow in well-drained soil so plant your rhizome in potting medium that is 50% pine bark, 40% peat moss and 10% sand, similar to the potting medium used with orchids. Keep the “soil” evenly moist. You can use a liquid orchid fertilizer every two weeks or just a general slow release fertilizer. The plants do not like to be pot bound, meaning the roots have completely filled the pot. The best container to grow them in is shallow and wide.
The plants also need high humidity so a room equipped with a humidifier works best or you can just mist your plant frequently. Temperature is important because these are tropical plants. They prefer temperatures around 75⁰F. If you put your plants outside in the summer, be sure to put them in a shady spot. They cannot tolerate direct sunlight. Bring them back indoors in the fall when the night-time temperatures reach 45⁰F.
After the flowers finish blooming, both the flowers and the leaves die. This is a good time to repot your rhizome, giving it fresh soil and a larger pot if necessary. After a minimum of two leaves emerge, the plants will begin to flower producing up to 8 flowers each year.
How To Propagate Bat Flowers
Most bat flowers are propagated by division of the rhizomes. In the spring, before new leaves appear and you are repotting your rhizome is a good time to divide it. Carefully break off a few pieces and plant them in their own containers. The original rhizome can be replanted in its container with fresh soil.
In the wild, bat flowers reproduce by seed. This will not happen naturally outside of their native forests because of the lack of their natural pollinators. However, you can hand pollinate the flowers so that they will produce seeds. After pollination, capsules full of seeds will emerge. You will have to be patient because it takes a long time for the seeds to mature. When they have matured, the capsules will split open revealing the seeds. Remove the seeds and the capsules from the plants and carefully clean the seeds. Then plant them immediately in the same potting soil that you use for the rhizomes. The seeds will not germinate if they dry out so you will have to work quickly.
More patience will be required as your seeds germinate and grow into plants. It will take a few years for the rhizome to grow to a size where it will produce flowers.
© 2018 Caren White