Tacca integrifolia ‘Nivea’ (Dioscoreaceae)

Tacca integrifolia ‘Nivea’ (Dioscoreaceae)

White Bat Plant (Yam family)

Origin: Tropical Asia

Florida’s human population is a lot like its plant population; there are a few natives, and a lot of transplanted exotics. It is always a joy to see someone who has just moved here from “up North” see what their houseplants look like in the ground in a more tropical environment. Ficus, used as office plants in many parts of the country, become massive Banyan trees. Poinsettias, which only come around in December in most states, grow as small shrubs outside in the garden. All kinds of hanging basket plants, from spider plants to begonias, leave the windowsill and turn into groundcovers, forming thick mats. We are fortunate in that we live in a climate which allows for culture of true tropical plants outdoors, in protected areas. A great example is the Bat Plant.

Tacca integrifolia is a rather unassuming herbaceous plant, growing to two feet in height. It has one of the most stunning blooms in the botanical world, comprised of a single inflorescence, with bracts and several flowers in various stages of budding and blooming. A couple of different types of bracts are presented, two large upright white bracts with purple coloration, which form the “ears” or maybe the “wings” of the “bat,” and long tendril bracts, dark purple in color and up to a foot long or more, which look like whiskers. This is yet another example of a plant with a bloom which to us, looks like a single flower, but which is actually a structure holding many flowers.

These are relatively easy plants to grow at home. They need rich, well-draining soil, a lot of shade, and protection from frosts and northern winds in the winter. Not long ago this was an incredibly rare species, but they are now readily available at garden centers. If you don’t have as green a thumb as our Horticulture Department, but would like to see a Bat Plant in bloom, come on down to Selby Gardens. We have two rather large plants on display in our Tropical Conservatory which should be in bloom for a few weeks.

Text by David Troxell