GARDENING: Wing it with this cool-looking plant
I am surrounded by plants most days, and still am amazed and delighted by what I see. Although only a tiny proportion of the nearly 400,000 species of plants in the world come my way, sometimes the variety and the beauty seem almost overwhelming.
Take one of my current loves, the black bat plant (tacca chantieri).
This is a perennial from tropical Asia which takes its name from the extraordinary flowers that resemble a bat.
The flowers are held on tall spikes above the foliage, and have large black bat "wings'' which can be up to 30cm across, and many long "whiskers'' up to 70cm long.
The leaves are large and entire, much like the leaves on a peace lily, although with more pronounced pleating. A mature plant can be almost one metre tall and wide. In their natural habitat, bat plants are an understorey plant in tropical rainforests.
To grow them successfully you need to mimic this situation as far as possible.
Try a shady spot, out of direct sun, and protected from the wind.
They need well-drained soil which is slightly acidic, and a moist, humid environment. They do really well in a pot.
Though they like to be kept moist, they don't like to be waterlogged, so you need to be careful about watering.
They are not frost tolerant, but will grow outdoors in coastal areas at least as far south as Sydney. There are some lovely ones in the Sydney Royal Botanic Garden.
In an ideal situation, you will have a succession of flowers from late spring right through summer and into autumn. You can bring potted specimens inside to enjoy the blooms. The flower stalks may need staking if you want them standing up straight.
Bat plants will produce babies at the base of the plant, and these can be removed when they are a reasonable size and repotted. Make sure you do it while there are at least two to three months of warm weather left.
These plants have a reputation for being a bit hard to grow, but I think this is a bit unfair.
Plants need to be fairly tough to survive living with me, and black bat plants pass that test.