Flowering plants, also known as Angiosperms, are the most diverse group of land plants in the world. Existing in different shapes, sizes, and colours, there are more than 95 species of flowering plants in Tropical Spice Garden – ranging from bromeliads to palms, cacti to begonias, and more! However, one genus stood out among all the flowering dicotyledons and monocotyledons in the garden; the genus Tacca which consists of the bat flowers and arrowroots – herbaceous perennials native to Africa and Asia.
The genus Tacca consists of the flowering plants in the yam family, Dioscoreaceae, and there are at least 17 species of Taccas. They are native to tropical region of China, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, East India, Indonesia, Laos, West Malaysia, Burma, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam.
The well-known Tacca species that have been cultivated as ornamental plants are the T. chantrieri and T. integrifolia. Taccas are known for their strange, yet mesmerizing flowers with long ‘whiskery’ bracts that can reach up to a foot in length! The lurid, purplish flowers are also known as the Bat Lily or keladi murai due to the two light coloured bracts held high like bat wings. Besides, Taccas have large, beautiful dark green foliage and prefer to be grown in low light conditions with good air circulation.
In Tropical Spice Garden, looking for a T. integrifolia is like participating in a botany treasure hunt! They are planted in various parts of the garden: from the Ornamental Trail to the Spice Terraces. Sometimes the flowers are so well hidden that you might miss them even though they are just right beside you! There are also a few Tacca integrifolia alba scattered around the garden, where the flowers are a ghostly white instead of purple!
Taccas bloom during the warmest months of the year, and in Tropical Spice Garden, we are lucky enough to witness the blooms up to 6-8 times per year!
Till today, the pharmacological potential of T. integrifolia remains unknown. In Malaysia, a paste from the tubers of the plant is applied to rash caused by insect bites. It is also used in traditional medicine for lowering blood pressure, gastric ulcer and minor burns. Furthermore, the plant was also found to be a diuretic. However, caution must be taken, as the toxic effects of this plant are still unknown. A more intensive study of T. integrifolia in the future would be great to disclose any compounds of therapeutic interest.
There is a lack of information regarding the function of the long bracts of the flower, where there was assumption of this feature as a “deceit syndrome”, in which reproductive structures resemble decaying organic material attracts flies that facilitate cross-pollination (sapromyiophily). However, some research showed that the Tacca populations were highly self-pollinating; pollinator visits were infrequent yet there were high pollen loads on the stigma, some of which occurred before the flower even blooms. Here at Tropical Spice Garden, we do observe something interesting during our Night Walks, where wingless insects utilize the long ‘whiskers’ to crawl up the flowers!
Taccas can be grown successfully indoors and outdoors as a popular ornamental plant, propagated from seeds or rhizomes grown best in well-drained, fertile soil. In terms of growing conditions, Taccas do well in conditions with ample humidity, strong airflow, and moderate light and temperatures. Thus, they make a good choice for your shade garden or indoor houseplant.
One thing is common among the growers…. Everyone loves the unusual, odd, unique, exquisite and magnificent appearance and features of the Taccas!