Tacca chantrieri – Halloween in the plant world!

Tacca chantrieri has a purple-black, curious yet magnificent inflorescence with wide-spread wings and whisker-like bracts hanging from the side. The inflorescence of this tropical plant almost looks like a bat or jungle cat in the wild. Thus giving the plant a common name of the Black Bat Flower. 

Tacca chatrieri

Tacca chantrieri – Wikimedia Commons: photograph by Jef Poskanzer, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

Who am I? – My roots (Taxonomy)
Since this is dependent on the classification system being used, it is important to first understand that Tacca comes from the order Dioscoreales. With different systems in use to classify different species the families to which they belong may differ. In the Dahlgren system of 1985, the order Dioscoreales comprised of seven families, two of which were Tacccaceae and Dioscoreaceae. These families were linked mainly due to features “indicating connections with dicotyledons.” (Caddick et al., 2002). However recent analyses of morphological and molecular data has caused reconsideration of the order Dioscoreales. In the first Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (APG) classification system, published in 1998, the order Dioscoreales, also known as the yam order, contained five families. These were: Dioscoreaceae, Burmannianaceae, Thismiaceae, Tricopodaceae and Taccaceae. However, in 2003, in the revised APG II system, Taccaceae and Thismiaceae were included in the family Dioscoreaceae. Tricopodaceae was placed into Burmannianaceae and a new family Nartheciaceae added to the order [Encylopaedia Britannica]. These changes were made on the basis of morphological similarities such as tuberous roots, reticulate (net) – veined leaves and reflexed stamens (Zhang et al., 2011).

Where do I come from?
The genus Tacca comprises of about 15 species, all of which are tropical plants, mainly Paleotropical in distribution. The majority of the species are found around Southeast Asia, 13 of which are restricted to Indo-Malesia. A few species are also found in South America and Africa (Zhang et al., 2011). Specifically, Tacca chantrieri is native to Malayasia (Everett, T. H., 1982).

Distribution Map of Tacca chantrieri - (Steenis et al., 1950)

Distribution Map of Tacca chantrieri – (Steenis et al., 1950)

Tacca cristata - Relative of T. chantrieri, in the same family of Dioscoreaceae.  University of Reading Herbarium

Tacca cristata – Relative of T. chantrieri, in the same family of Dioscoreaceae.
University of Reading Herbarium

 

Where am I found?
Tacca chantrieri is an evergreen tropical jungle plant which lives in the forest understory, which explains the reason why locals could mistake it for a jungle cat or bat due to its distinctive features. It likes shaded areas where its large leaves remain protected from the wind, rain and any falling debris. The plant requires plenty of moisture in humus-rich and well-drained soils.

As for my morphologyTacca chantrieri is a popular species and most commonly known for its uniquely strange inflorescence shape and colour. This monocotyledon has long stalked, broad leaves of an olive- (dark) green colour growing up to 70cm wide (Everett, T. H., 1982). The most eye-catching feature of the plant is its dramatic inflorescence. Its dark purple, maroon or black inflorescence can grow up to 50cm wide, sometimes made up of 25 flowers. The inflorescence has two pairs of large spread, wing-like bracts with thread-like whiskers growing beneath them, known as bracteoles. The inflorescence also has smaller black flowers with 5 petals which hang like berries, giving it a bat shaped appearance. The root of this plant is long and tuberous similar to its relative Tacca leontopetaloides, also known as Polynesian Arrowroot.

Tacca chatrieri - Wikimedia Commons: photograph by Jef Poskanzer, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

Tacca chatrieri - Wikimedia Commons: photograph by Jef Poskanzer, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

To make that botanically clear…. T. chantriei flowers are actinomorphic with a cymose umbellate inflorescence subtended by purple bracts with whisker-like bracteoles drooping by the side. The flower is hermaphroditic with 6 stamens and a pistil (Zhang et al., 2004). This explains the reason behind the vernacular names of the ‘black bat flower’, ‘devil flower’ and ‘tigers whiskers’.

Tacca chatrieri with visible large olive green monocot leaves and bat-like inflorescence

Tacca chatrieri with visible large olive green monocot leaves and bat-like inflorescence

Tacca chantrieri young leaf - Tropical Greenhouse University of Reading

Tacca chantrieri young leaf – Tropical Greenhouse University of Reading


Why I might look like this?

Studies suggest the reason for the flowers unique features is for pollination purposes. Drenth (1972) and Saw (1993) believed that the flower was trying to resemble rotting organic material through its smell and colour in order to attract flies for cross-pollination. This is known as the sapromyiophilous syndrome (Zhang, L., et al., 2004) On the contrary Zhang et al., (2011) concluded that T. chantrieri is a self-pollinating plant which has undergone considerable change throughout its evolutionary history causing it to no longer use the inflorescence as an attraction for potential pollinators such as flies. A suggested reason for its unique inflorescence structure may be to assist in photosynthesis in the shady understory as well as to protect the plant from being eaten by herbivores. Cultivation For the gardeners, T. chantrieri grows well in pots, by maintaining regular pruning and removal of dead leaves and flowers the plant should grow beautifully (Clay & Hubbard, 1987). Various species of Tacca are popularly cultivated as ornamental plants including the White Bat Flower, Tacca integrifolia.

 

Medicinal Uses
T. chantrieri has played a role in Chinese traditional medicine as a herbal remedy for various health-related problems. It has been said that the plant has good anti-inflammatory properties due to its steroidal components in its tuberous roots making it good for treating burns, gastric ulcers, stomach-aches and incised wounds (Huang et al., 2003). In addition, it has been used for treatment of hypertension, as research showing its extracts contain cardiovascular attributes such as vaso-relaxants (Williams, C., 2012).

References

  •  Caddick, L. R., Wilkin, P., Rudall, P. J., Hedderson, T, A J. and Chase, M. W. (2002). Yams Reclassified: A Recircumsciption of Dioscoreaceae and Dioscoreales. Taxon. Vol. 51. No. 1. pp. 103-114.
  •  Clay, H. F. and Hubbard, J. C. (1987). Tropical Exotics. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 139.
  • Drenth, E. (1972). A revision of the family Taccaceae. Blumea. Vol. 20367-406.
  • Encylopedia Britannica, 2014. Dioscoreales[online] Available at: <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/164410/Dioscoreales> Accessed: 03 Nov 2014.
  • Huang, Y., Muehlbauer, A., Henkel, T. and Liu, J. K. (2003). Two New Taccalonolides from Tropical Plant Tacca Subfleallata. Chinese Chemical Letters. Vol. 14. No. 1. pp. 68-71.  Saw, L. G. (1993)Tacca: flowering and fruiting behaviour. Nature Malaysiana Vol. 183-6.
  • Zhang, L., Li, H., Gao, L., Yang, J., Li, D., Cannon, C. H., Chen, J. and Li, Q. (2011). Phylogeny and Evolution of Bracts and Bracteoles in Tacca (Dioscoeaceae). Journal of Integrative Plant Biology. Vol. 53. No. 11. pp. 901-911.
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University librarians enjoy the Dew(e)y atmosphere

At 9am sharp today the tropical glasshouse was invaded by a hush of Librarians.  Led by the intrepid Helen Hathway (Head of Academic Liaison and Support) and guided by our biology subject specialist Tim Chapman more than 20 members of the library team explored the themed plant display.  Showing rather less enthusiasm to dip their arms shoulder deep in murky pond water than the children from our recent 71st Beavers troop visit there was still evident interest in the tiny balloon whisk hairs on the water ferns that keep them afloat and there were gasps of surprise when a straggling green vine was dug to show plump sweet potatoes underneath.

Hiding behind the papyrus, some of our visitors from the Library.

Hiding behind the papyrus, some of our visitors from the Library.

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A visit from 71st Beavers

One of 71st Reading Beavers looking at Water hyacinth.

Ben, one of 71st Reading Cubs looking at Water hyacinth.

Monday afternoon was grey, cold and wet but the Reading 71st Beavers and their helpers braved the weather to walk to our tropical glasshouse.  Thick coats were soon shed and the children had a chance to look around and interact with the tropical plants.  The group arrived just after 5pm to make use of the remaining daylight and luckily their walk across campus coincided with a break in the heavy rain.

The keen band of children were ready to explore the tropical ‘jungle’ and discover more about the fascinating world of plants.

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Dendrochilum filiforme Lindl.

The plant of Dendrochilum filiforme in the tropical glasshouse.

The plant of Dendrochilum filiforme in the tropical glasshouse.

This diminutive orchid is commonly known as the Golden Chain Orchid, a name it shares with a few close relatives.  The plant in our glasshouse was donated by a keen plantsman who grows a range of exotic species and is now flowering for the first time.

The small plant arrived  in late summer 2013 and was potted in a mix of equal parts Seramis: Orchid Bark: Sphagnum in a clay pot, and stood on capillary matting watered with rainwater.  Glasshouse temperatures range from as little as 8C on winter nights to highs of 30C on Summer days.  The plant is said to be an easy orchid species to grow and it has certainly survived well with us so far.

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More on bananas

We grow two types of banana in the tropical glasshouse, the pink, seed containing, Musa dasycarpa, and the much larger edible banana with small yellow seedless fruit for which we do not know the cultivar.

Our yellow fruited banana cultivar on show at MERL Villagae Fete

Our yellow fruited banana cultivar on show at MERL Village Fete

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Welcome Richard Higgins, our latest BSc researcher in Tropical Biodiversity

Richard getting to know the plants in the glasshouse

Richard getting to know the plants in the glasshouse

A new round of BSc research projects have just started for 2014/15 academic year.  Richard Higgins will be working with Paul Hatcher and Alastair Culham on the monitoring and management of Mealy bug in the tropical glasshouse.  Continue reading

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Horse tales: all about Equisetum myriochaetum

This gallery contains 26 photos.

What’s named after a horse, older than a horse and can keep you warm in winter? So-called because of their bristly appearance, the horsetails are an intriguing group of early plants that have existed since the Devonian period [1]. Fossil … Continue reading

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