Tacca chantrieri

black batflower


Tacca chantrieri

André 1901

pronounced: TAK-kah shon-tree-ER-ee

(Dioscoreaceae — the yam family)


common names: black batflower, tiger's moustache

Most authorities now classify plants according to the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group System (APG). When this was first published in 1998, Taccaceæ was described as a separate family, containing only the Tacca genus. The 2003 revision of the system (APG II) placed all these plants in the Dioscoreaceæ. Tacca is from the Malayan word for the Black Bat plant; chantrieri is for the Chantrier Brothers, who conducted a famous nursery at Mortefontaine, France.

This plant is grown for its bizarre flowers. It is found naturally in southern Chine, India, and South-east Asia, growing in the damp and dark understorey of tropical rainforests. The plants of the Tacca genus look very similar to the yams, with which they are often confused when not in flower.

They are perennials with tuberous roots, and have large elongated crinkly simple leaves, lanceolate in shape, sometimes lobed, growing directly from the tuber. The leaves are dark green on the upper surface, and a greyish green underneath. They can reach lengths of up to about 40 cm, and breadths of about 20 cm.

Plants will usually begin to flower after 2 or 3 years. Up to as many as 25 flowers are grouped in umbels at the end of long stalks, also attached directly to the tuber. The most spectacular parts of the plant are the large bracts extending like wings around the flowers. Next to them there are long bracteoles which give the inflorescence the appearance of feline whiskers, hence the second common name. The flowers themselves, each with 5 petals, are clustered in the middle of all this, and are quite unassuming!

After the plant blooms, it will develop seed pods. The plant is capable of setting seed without pollinators. The seed pods will remain on the plant for quite a long time.

Black bat flowers don’t like greenhouses, because they lack breezes. They require very similar conditions to orchids (of humidity, light and air) for successful growth. They do seem immune to most garden pests. They grow best in well-drained soil with good air circulation and high humidity – they like a lot of water.

The tuber is also used for both food and medicine. The Hmong people in southern China, originally from Laos, eat the tuber after they have macerated it for a long time to eliminate its bitterness. In Vietnam, the tubers are washed, cut into fine strips, and put into the sum to dry. Alternatively, they may be steamed and then macerated in alcohol. The concoction is then used as a massage oil for treating rheumatic fever.

The flowers of the similar species Tacca integrifolia are equally as complex, but not as spectacular, as they are smaller, and greenish or white in colour. The young leaves of both species are either grilled or eaten raw with an accompanying piquant sauce. In some places the tubers are fermented to make an alcoholic drink.

The Akha people, a hill tribe of northern Thailand, use a decoction of the tuber as an aphrodisiac and for treating anaemia.

There is currently on the market an elixir of the black bat flower, which claims to increase strength and confidence, and to give those taking it the power to propel themselves forward with fierce compassion, protective anger, and productive ferocity. It is also said to dissolve both rational and irrational fears, panic, obsession or high stress.

dangerous 2These plants come with a warning! Some believe that the evil eye will start stalking you if you spend too long looking at the flowers. Others believe that too much watching of the plant will result in the death of either the viewer or of come close relative.


Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.


Photographs taken 2019, Arcadia

Page last updated 1st June, 2019