IFAS Fort Lauderdale REC Plant Introduction
White Batflower (Tacca integrifolia), An Exciting New Flowering Foliage Plant
Alan W. Meerow
The genus Tacca consists of long-lived, short stemmed, rhizomatous or tuberous herbaceous plants. All but one species occur in Asia. Four species of Asian Tacca have attractive, entire leaves, vertical growth habit, and strange whisker-like (filiform) bracts below the flowers that can hang down for as much as 1 foot in length. It is these structures and their accompanying cluster of luridly colored flowers that has given rise to the sobriquet "batflower" for these marvelous tropical plants. Cloaking the flowers from above are several broad and showy bracts, expanding like bat wings. Tacca chantrieri was the first of these species to make a splash in the horticultural world. In this species not only are the flowers and filiform bracts dark maroon, but so are the broad bracts that rise up above and behind the flowers. For many years this has been the only batflower grown in the United States and Europe. A handful of nurseries in Florida regularly list this species as a novelty.
Tacca integrifolia, the White Batflower
Unlike its close relative, T. chantrieri, T. intergrifolia has white bracts hovering over the nodding flowers. The bracts are beautifully veined with purple. The plants reach about 4' in height (about twice the ultimate height of T. chantrieri). The rhizome of this species grows vertically and the crown of large, attractive leaves emerge from the top of the rhizome. The leaves superficially resemble those of some Peace lilies (Spathiphyllum), but the resemblance ends when the flowers begin to appear. The good news for foliage producers in Florida is that flowering plants of the white batflower can be finished in under 1 year from seed.
The white batflower fits into any foliage production scheme with ease. The plants thrive in 70-80% shade, high temperatures, and even moisture. A container medium of 50% pine bark, 40% peat and 10% sand (or similar) supports rapid growth. The plants can be placed under fertigation or else supplied with highest rates of any resin-coated slow release fertilizer. In the wild, T. integrifolia occurs in the understory of rain forests in deep shade, but in a diversity of soil types. The species is most often found growing in accumulations of decayed organic matter.
White batflower is remarkably free of pest and disease problems. Snails and slugs are the only pest problems we have encountered.
Flowering seems to begin when the plants have produced 2-3 full-size leaves. Each plant produces at least 6 and up to 12 flower stems during the warm months of the year. In south Florida, I've observed flowering on large, established plants from May through November. In 1998, the plants began to flower late in the season (August) and are reaching peak bloom in November. No information is available on forcing the plants to flower, but experimentation with plant hormones might be useful. As exotic as the flowers are, they perform poorly as cut-flowers, and wilt soon after cutting, even if floral preservative is placed in the water.
Bat flowers are presumed to be pollinated by flies. In cultivation, apparent self-pollination takes place in a certain percentage of plants. The leathery capsules (about 1.5" long) require up to a year to ripen. When they split along their sides, numerous 1/4" seeds are revealed embedded in a sticky pulp. The seeds should be cleaned of the pulp, air-dried, and planted immediately. Several stock plants can be maintained for seed production. Seed set can be increased by artificial self- or cross-pollination.
Germinating seeds of Tacca integrifolia, the white bat flower. Sow seeds in any standard germination medium (e.g. 1:1 peat:perlite or vermiculite:perlite) and cover them 1/8." Place in warm, moist conditions (intermittent mist ideal) in bright light but no direct sun (unless you are using a mist system that will prevent the medium from drying out; in that case you can germinate them under 50-60% shade). Germination takes 8-12 weeks. Prick the seedlings out into individual cells or small (2.5-3" pots) when the first leaf is well-developed. The seedlings benefit from frequent dilute applications of soluble fertilizer. When small, they pass through a stage of almost chronic chlorosis, even with regular fertilization, but overcome this in a few weeks. We move them into 6" pots once they are well-established in cells or small pots. The plants are generally about 2" tall at that time. The plants thrive in 70-80% shade.
I sowed seed of the white batflower, collected from a single plant, on October 12, 1993. They began to germinate in 8 weeks and were transplanted on December 30 into cell packs. They were moved up to 4.5" pots three months later and then into 8" in May, 1994. The first flowers appeared in November, 1994. A second crop was sown in February, 1996. After establishment in 60-cell trays, the seedlings were transplanted directly into 6" containers. The first flowers appeared in December, 1996, only ten months after sowing! A total production time of less than 1 year for 6" containers is thus feasible.