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James Wong

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The White Bat Lily: an amazing new plant at Chelsea - if only we could find it!

Posted by James Wong on 21 Feb 2010 at 10:51 PM

Tacca intergrifolia

So it's almost 11pm on a Sunday night and I am at my wits end, having spend all weekend desperately trying to track down a "make or break" plant for our garden.

Tacca integrifolia (syn. Tacca "nivea"), or the White Bat Lily, is probably one of the most bizarre, alien looking flowers I have ever seen - like something straight out of the digital film set of 'Avatar'. And unlike so many other botanical curiousities, the great thing about this Tacca is that it is also truly beautiful - somehow managing to be understatedly elegant and a guarantee of pure shock value at the same time.

Native to the dark forest floor of the Malaysian jungle, it has been used by various indigenous peoples to treat everything from high blood pressure to supposidly being a potent aphrodiasiac - which might explain why tracking it down is so tricky! What might be even more bizarre than its appearance for a geeky plantsman like me, is the fact that noone seems to know why the plant produces such a highly elaborate flower in the first place, as it appears that the plant is self-pollinated. If any plant is a "must have" for our garden, this is most definately it.

To give you a background as to why we want this so much, my design partner David Cubero (who is really the brain behind much of the garden's planting) has this exciting idea of creating a lush, "lost world" kind of feel, where twisted roots of strangler figs and carnivourous pitcher plants scramble around quite a stark, almost monolithic hard landscaping. In many ways, the less species joe public is able to recognise in the garden, the better - and no plant would quite fit this brief like the White Bat Lily 

So far we have hired a modern-day "plant hunter" of sorts to scour the big nurseries in Holland for it, exhausted the RHS plant finder in the UK, and have spent most nights this week up until the early hours of the morning calling up nurseries in Malaysia trying to hunt it down - the incredible thing is that there are plenty of nurseries all over the world that sell the bulb / rhizome (including in the UK), but finding them alive and in flower in Northern Europe for May is proving an almost impossible task.

At this point I am open to suggestions - If anyone can find a source of these in flower for May - I would be eternally grateful!



Levia said:

Hi ! I've seen this, as well as other Tacca spp on sale when I was in Thailand recently. If your contacts can get you in touch with the Thai nurseries they would probably be able to ship them over.

on 02 Mar 2010 at 01:39 AM

tigersoph said:

I'm sure this has probably already been checked but apparently they provide a huge variety of plants at various stages of growth.

Also when I was in Jamaica I visited an Orchid farm (as I am a geek) and the chap who ran it was HUGELY knowledgeable about all sorts of crazy wild and exotic plants (but obviously deals personally with his orchids). Not sure if he would know of any options for you.

Think his farm was in St Elizabeth. Dr Bennett?? But don't quote me on that as I am rubbish with names it was also a few years ago. The farm is still there though.x

on 24 Mar 2010 at 04:54 PM

Cythius said:

I just called Gardening Express ( and ordered the Tacca plant (the black one). They have stock available apparently. As for Intergrifolia, they say this will not be in stock till Spring next year. However, I have not given up on this. Will keep looking. Such a beauty they are:)

on 06 Aug 2010 at 03:24 PM