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Leaf of the Day: Black Bat Flower

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Wednesday 30 July 2008

Leaf of the Day: Black Bat Flower

Having thinned out the nature table last week, I cycled down to Leu this morning. It has been over a week since I have seen the gardens or the gardeners and of course things have galloped on apace. I came back bearing exotic gifts from Susan and Pedro, three luffahs, two pieces of potato vine, a passion flower flower, various pods, including another bigger ginger pod and bits and pieces of leaves. I have found two more aristolochias.. these I have to admit are quite cute not the fleshy monsters from before, and speaking of fleshy, the disgusting meat mimicking Carrion Cactus, the stapelia, is in bloom, complete with flies eggs. I will not be drawing it, but it does have a horrid fascination! I wrote about it here and drew a piece of the stem that Pedro gave me which is now happily growing on the balcony. Luckily no sign of a flower yet. We have netting over the balconies here and I have awful visions of waking up one morning to find it black with bluebottles clamouring to get at this fleshy stinking starfishy thing.

But on to something equally strange but also sinister, a few weeks ago I came across the dark and brooding Bat Flowers.

Tacca integrifolia, the White Bat Flower

Also called the Devil Flowers, and the Cats Whiskers, these are the exotic Taccas. Tacca chantrieri and Tacca integrifolia. There are several scattered about at Leu and I had seen the name tags before but never the flower. There is definitely something odd about it, mainly I think because we are so used to flowers being so brightly coloured, and you can understand why superstition has built up around it.

The Black Bat Flower

The tiny "eyes" of these beautiful and exotic plants peer out from the darkest deepest maroon flowers. It is considered by some to be a malevolent plant and in Malaya it is unlucky to look into these little glittering watchful eyes. Equally dark filaments ( filiform bracteoles) bristle out and hang down about 12 inches. Above the hanging flowers,(and there can be as many as 30)are the bat wing bracts, dark in the Black Bat Flower and white, veined with purple in the White Bat Flower. A real haunting beauty I think.

My drawing below is just of a couple of the flowers which had fallen from the now withering plants. They are wonderful things. Black flowers are very beautiful and you can understand the obsession that develops around breeding them, the inspiration of course for Alexander Dumas' classic story 'The Black Tulip' . .....tulips and obsession go hand in hand but that's another post.

Black Bat Flower

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