How to Grow Bat Flowers - Dengarden - Home and Garden
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How to Grow Bat Flowers

Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.

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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 (Tacca chantrieri) 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 which are too dark for most plants.

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.

The white bat flower has white bracts with purple veining and bracteoles that are purple

The white bat flower has white bracts with purple veining and bracteoles that are purple

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. What you will receive is a rhizomes. The plants grow from rhizomes. The rhizomes must grow in well-drained soil so plant them 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 depending on the age and size of the rhizome.

The plants can produce up to 8 flowers per year.

The plants can produce up to 8 flowers per year.

How to Divide 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. Your new plants won't bloom until the pieces of rhizome have grown large enough to produce flowers.

After pollination, seed capsules will emerge.  They split open when the seed has ripened.

After pollination, seed capsules will emerge. They split open when the seed has ripened.

How to Grow Bat Flowers From Seed

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.

Questions & Answers

Question: Will I be able to grow bat flowers from seeds in SA?

Answer: No, it is not possible to grow bat flowers from seed in any place in the world except their native region. That's because they need specific insects to pollinate them. These insects only occur in southeast Asia. It is possible to hand pollinate bat flowers, but that requires access to blooming plants. Your best bet is to purchase a rhizome from a reputable nursery.

Question: Will I be able to grow bat flowers from seed in south Florida?

Answer: No, it is not possible to grow bat flowers from seed in any place in the world except their native region. That's because they need specific insects to pollinate them. These insects only occur in southeast Asia. It is possible to hand pollinate bat flowers, but that requires access to blooming plants. Your best bet is to purchase a rhizome from a reputable nursery.

© 2018 Caren White

Comments

Caren White (author) on June 11, 2020:

There are quite a few plants whose seed must be fresh, not dried, to germinate. That is why you cannot find seed for those plants in catalogs which only carried dried seeds.

Diana Black on June 11, 2020:

Hi,

I enjoyed your article about the Bat Flower. Would you please share your source for the statement you made about germinating from seed? I’m especially curious about the part instructing not to let them dry out... (“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.”)

Thanks,

Diana

Caren White (author) on April 01, 2020:

Will, you will have to be patient. Germination takes anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

Will on April 01, 2020:

Thank you for a very educational article, Caren. Can you advise me on when I can expect to see growth from a rhizome (approx 12cm long)?

Caren White (author) on November 06, 2018:

Thanks Melissa! I'm happy thzt you found it inspiring.

Melissa Meadow from United States on November 06, 2018:

This is such an amazingly beautiful plant! I do not think I've heard of it before so thank you so much for posting this informative article!

I'm a plant lover and adore gardening so much. I think I just may have to order this gorgeous plant and keep it indoors with me.

Great pictures, too!

Excellent read.

Caren White (author) on November 05, 2018:

Robert, you can grow it as a houseplant anywhere! But I think the Pacific Northwest is too cold for it to be grown outdoors year-round. I'm sure it would enjoy summers outside and winter inside.

Robert Beyer from Seattle, Washington on November 05, 2018:

Hi Caren,

Could you grow the bat flower in the pacific northwest.? I know plants can be hard to grow up here.

Thanks for the info.

Robert