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How to Grow and Care for the Truly Fascinating Black Bat Flowers

How to Grow and Care for Black Bat Flowers
The black bat flower plant is ideal for those who love to grow unusual plants. Here are some tips to grow this plant, which is very popular for its fascinating and unique flowers.
Sonia Nair
Last Updated: Jul 28, 2017
Black bat flower plants are also known as cat's whiskers, voodoo flowers, and devil flowers.
Native to certain parts of Southeast Asia, the black bat flower plant (Tacca chantrieri) derived its name from its black-colored flower that resembles a bat in flight. This plant belongs to the genus Tacca in the yam family Dioscoreaceae. This family has around ten genera with around 750 species. However, the genus Tacca has a single species called Tacca chantrieri, which is by far the most commonly known bat flower plant. Another species called Tacca integrifolia (white bat flower) has slightly larger, white flowers.

Tacca chantrieri, or the black bat plant, grows from underground rhizomes; and produces large-green leaves and long-stemmed flowers. The leaves can be as long as 15 inches. The flower stem develops from the base of the plant, and it can be around 24 inches long. The main attraction of this plant is its flower, which is an umbel (a flat-topped inflorescence with numerous flower stalks). Each umbel has the two bracts that are wing-like structures, which can be black, maroon-black, or purplish-black. The flower has two more small bracts located below the large ones.

Flower stalks develop from the center of the inflorescence. A single umbel may produce around 25 flower stalks. The small flowers are also black, and each of them has five petals. Apart from the flower stalks, each umbel has numerous long and trailing filaments too. The filaments can have a length of around 10 inches. The flower (including the wing-like bracts) can be around 12 inches in width. The plant can attain a maximum height of 24 to 36 inches.

In its native habitat, Tacca chantrieri grows as an understory plant that thrives in partial shade, well-drained soil, warmth, and high humidity level. So, the black bat flower plant is slightly picky, as it has some specific requirements that are necessary for its survival. Those who plan to grow this plant must have a basic understanding about its requirements.
Black Bat Flower Care
The black bat flower is grown as perennials, and the plant is hardy to USDA zone 10 and 11. Though it grows best in warm regions, others could opt for this plant if it can be shifted to a warm spot during the winters. It is better not to expose the plant to temperatures below 55°F. The blooming time starts from late spring and extends to early fall. Usually, this plant blooms after it develops at least two to three leaves. It may bloom around seven to eight times in a single growing season.
Black Bat Flower
Closeup of a black bat flower
Location, Soil, Light
The black bat flower plant needs fertile, but well-drained soil. The preferred pH range is 6.1 to 7.5. A good quality potting mix combined with some perlite may work. A mixture of pine bark, peat moss, and sand is also good for this plant. In that case, make sure that the mix has 50% pine bark, 40% peat moss, and 10% sand. Combinations like 60% peat moss, 30% perlite, and 10% vermiculite will also work fine. A potting mix that is meant for orchids can also be used.

In warmer regions, the plant can be grown on the ground. Otherwise, it is better to grow it in containers. For this purpose, you must use wide, shallow pots with good drainage holes. The plant prefers light shade and indirect sunlight. So, it is not advisable to keep it in full sun. If grown indoors, it can be placed near a south-facing window, where it will get bright, indirect light. You can also grow it in a greenhouse. It must get at least four hours of bright, indirect light.
Water, Fertilizer
Black bat flower plants need regular watering during the growing season (late spring to late summer). The soil has to drain well, as sogginess may cause rotting of rhizomes. However, the soil has to remain moist for the plant to grow and bloom well. Make sure that the soil does not dry out completely. During winter, water this plant sparsely. However, keep the soil slightly moist during spring when the plant starts growing after winter dormancy.
During the growing season, you have to feed the plant once in every two weeks. A general purpose fertilizer can be used for this purpose. It has to be diluted by half before application. Fertilizers meant for orchids are also fine for bat flowers. Avoid feeding the plant during its dormancy.
Bat Flower Plant
The plant has large, dark green leaves with angular pleats.
Temperature, Humidity
The ideal temperature range is 77 to 84°F during summer, and 59 to 64°F during winter. It is always better to be on the higher side though. A relative humidity of 50 to 70% is preferred. In order to increase humidity levels, you can keep potted plants on trays filled with pebbles and water. A humidifier can also be used for this purpose. Such measures are not needed for plants growing inside a greenhouse. The plant should not be placed near air conditioner/heater vents. Misting should not be done, as the leaves will open their pores to absorb the water. The pores will remain open, thereby resulting in water loss and death of the plant. Though good air circulation is preferred, strong air drafts and winds are not good for this plant.
Repotting, Propagation
Repotting has to be done every year during early spring. You must use a larger pot every time you repot this plant. It is better to separate the rhizomes and plant them in different pots while repotting. The size of the pot must be appropriate for the size of the rhizome. Repotting should not be done when the plant is in bloom. New plants must be kept in a low-light setting, before they are shifted to brighter locations. Division of rhizomes is an easy way of propagating the black bat flower plant.

Another method is to use its seeds, which can be collected from the seedpods. You have to remove the pulp, clean the seeds, and let them air dry for two to three days. The seeds need to be soaked in warm water (a thermos bottle can be used for this purpose) for a day. A seed starting mix can be used for sowing the seeds. Once sown, they need to be placed in a warm location. The temperature must be maintained between 80 to 85°F. The seeds may germinate within one to nine months. The seedlings can be transplanted when they get big enough to be planted in 3-inch pots. During this growth phase, the seedlings have to be fed lightly with diluted fertilizers.
To sum up, the black bat flower plant requires special care. If provided with suitable conditions, this plant will grow and bloom well. In case the leaves get browned and lifeless, keep the plant for some time in a location with high humidity. Extreme temperatures may cause blackening of new leaves. This symptom may develop if the plant is exposed to strong winds or direct light. Sometimes, it may get infested with slugs and snails.