Nature takes on all sorts of shapes. If pumpkins are associated with Halloween, there’s another plant that deserves to be bracketed with the autumn celebration. The bat flower, also known as the devil flower or tiger’s whiskers, has a name custom made for it, and occupies a well-earned place among plant curiosities.
Like bat wings
The inflorescences – the flower clusters – of the Tacca chantrieri have a unique and rather curious shape. The flowers, which are relatively small, are bunched together under wide, dark bracts. It’s these purplish-brown bracts, almost black, that are reminiscent of the wings of a bat in flight. The long bracteoles that hang down from each side of the inflorescence bear an uncanny resemblance to a cat’s whiskers. The inflorescences, including the bracts, can be as long or as wide as 50 centimeters and produce more than 25 flowers, but the specimens in our collection are generally more modest in size! Tacca intregrifolia is called the white bat flower because it displays two big white bracts.
A curiosity from the tropics
Bat flowers are part of the genus Tacca, which comprises about 15 tropical species, including T. chantrieri and T. integrifolia, the most cultivated. The majority of the species are found from Southeast Asia to Australia and Oceania, but a few come from tropical Africa, Madagascar and South America. Tacca chantrieri is native to tropical rainforests from southern China to as far as the Malay Peninsula.
The Jardin botanique has a few bat flowers in its collection. If Mother Nature collaborates, you might have a chance to see it in bloom on your next visit in the month of October. Keep an eye out!