In Our Garden: The Mesmerising Bat Flower

In Our Garden: The Mesmerising Bat Flower


Bat Flower | Tropical Garden | Exotic Flowers | Tacca spp. | Dioscoreaceae


When you see one of our bat flowers peering out from the leafy understory in our tropical garden, a similar response often echoes … wow! Indeed, bat flowers are unlike any other flowering plant in the world. While it might be obvious the plant earned its common name ‘the bat flower’ because it looks like a bat, some of its other qualities are far less obvious.


The white bat flower, Tacca integrifolia, can reach a growth height of 1m tall. Other bat flower species come in black/brown-purple and green. Bat flowers are native to southeast Asia and will grow in tropical Australia with the correct conditions.


A good percentage of bat flowers are self-pollinating. White bat flowers, however, are reportedly rare to see in flower because they rely on cross-pollination from flies. Although it isn’t clear to what capacity, bat flowers have the ability to waft out a smelly substance to attract flies into its seed cavity where the pollen resides. Australian Butterfly Sanctuary gardener, Beau Nash, has observes “pollination of bat flowers usually occurs at dusk and dawn … and our white variety, located near our side entryway, is in bloom now!” Also in bloom at the moment are two smaller black bat flowers which is typical for this time of year in tropical north Queensland.


The black bat flower, Tacca chantrieri. This smaller variety will happily grow in a pot in a shady position. We’ve never seen a butterfly land on any of our bat flowers … that’s probably because the flower looks like a bat to them too!


If you wish to grow a bat plant or two yourself, we recommend carefully planting them in the ground or a pot in the understory of your tropical garden. They like dappled sunlight and enjoy moist conditions. It is possible to grow bat flowers inside but you’ll need to mist frequently to keep the humidity up. When it comes time to repot your bat flower, you’ll notice it has tubers. That’s because it is part of the yam family and yes, the tuber is edible. In Chinese herbal medicine and other traditional cultures throughout southeast Asia, the tuber of the bat flower has been used to treat a variety of ailments such as issues with digestion, high blood pressure and burns.


Acknowledgements | Thank you to Linda and Terry Genever for the inspiration to write this post. Beau Nash provided insightful information about the pollination of our bat plants generously donated from friends of our butterfly garden.




Drenth, E. 1972 A revision of the family Taccaceae. Blumea: Biodiversity, Evolution and Biogeography of Plants 20(2):367–406.


Jiang, J-H., H-M, Yang, Y-L, Wang and Y-G, Chen 2014 Phytochemical and Pharmacological Studies of the Genus Tacca: A Review. Tropical Journal of Pharmaceutical Research 13(4):635-648.