Project Batwing

It all started when I spent the morning stalking dragonflies among some water-lilies at the local botanical garden.

I ended up taking a rogue turn toward the bonsai collection which was too near the gift shop. Said gift shop was hosting a rare plant sale, and, after several events of which most are a blur, I found myself exiting as the new owner of a Tacca integrifolia, or white batflower, a tropical, Asiatic plant that I am not entirely certain I will be able to keep alive.

Thus began Project Batwing, the epic, arduous journey of me trying to nurse a yellow cluster of leaves into dramatic, black and white flowers reminiscent of Hollywood yesteryear. This is her story.

Black Friday: Welcome Home

For a start I have placed it next to the fern and given it a good soaking, choosing to stare awkwardly at it like the new plant parent that I am and mostly ignore the fact that big decisions still need to be made.

The batflower grows naturally in tropical regions and in a steamy greenhouse at the botanical garden. Is the batflower going to be the plant that finally gets me to build that greenhouse I’ve always wanted to build? Is there going to be tech involved for said greenhouse now that I’m 3/4 of the way through engineering? Is the flower going to live? We shall soon see.

Oscar Weekend: We have a name

I firmly believe all plants of considerable interest should have names, and after much deliberation I think I have finally arrived at one for the Tacca. As previously mentioned, the plant reminds me of old Hollywood; after considering a bunch of classic films and a long list of famous actors and actresses, I have decided to name the plant Olivia, after Olivia de Havilland. Olivia was chosen for three reasons.

One: I consider “Olivia de Havilland” one of the coolest names to have ever existed in Hollywood.

Two: the actress is still living at 103, and longevity is something I’m going for with the batflower.

And Three: because she acted in Gone with the Wind, one of the most influential films of my youth and the cause of many a primary school nightmare. I’ve thought about that film often as I’ve grown up, about how my sympathy for Scarlett at the end of the film has oscillated over the years, and I guess also my capacity for forgiveness. I never thought much of de Havilland’s character, but I have thought a lot about the nightmares concerning Scarlett and her husband… how he overtook so much of her mind for so many years, and then, on becoming available, she realized it was all a lie-filled fantasy and the relationships that really mattered have been lost. Say what. Scary stuff.

That being said, Tacca is now named Olivia.

Easter Weekend: Covid Lockdown

I’ve spent a lot of quality time with Olivia given her place in my office. She attended the week-long services with me, during which I used a decent amount of time to look at the mountain of lilies in the back of the church during the live-stream. Given the empty church the lilies were the majority in attendance, which kind of made it feel like the service was for them and I was the lily. Anyway, she enjoyed several hours of Gregorian chant. As plants reactions to music is one of the most common school science projects, I’m going to go out on a limb and say she enjoyed it.

Olivia’s also been given compost and a dish of water to increase humidity. I played around with circuits in between studying for most of the week, and while I developed a few projects in my head that I’d like to see realized, other things are taking priority at the moment. So a tech-y greenhouse is quite far down the list. Though all the time did make me realize how large the plant has actually become since November, with leaves bigger than my hand now. I’ve decided to start documenting her progress in the chart below, starting this week as hopefully a lead up to blooming. I followed a botanic garden did that for a corpse flower. The measurements added quite a lot of excitement to the live stream, which I checked frequently. Side note: they also named the flower, and gave it a cute parasol under which to sit (plus the said live stream), so I’m not that crazy.

Mother’s Day: Emergency Social Media Debut

We interrupt my usual Instagram offering to make the point that I am occasionally a really horrible plant mom and am now in need of thoughts and prayers for Olivia the bat flower. Three weeks ago she was accidentally given saltwater, and after being washed, repotted and thoroughly composted (though the soil is not ideal) she is still struggling, having lost seven leaves since then with no new sign of growth. I am really worried about over or under-reacting to the current situation. Her full story and measurements are being documented in Norbert’s Garden Notebook.

Long story short, she’s named for Olivia de Havilland, was the result of a fleeting moment of passion after a morning spent with dragonflies and was previously doing really well until her surrounding humans were stupid.

Final Exams Aftermath: Olivia moves to ICU

So I have built the rough beginnings of a greenhouse, with loose flaps of plastic serving as the walls. The thought is that they might keep the humidity up and the day to night temperature more stable without completely enclosing the plant, much like a shower curtain in a warm bathroom. Louis the parrot donated the frame, which used to be a stand for his climbing branches. Possible plans to tech out the inside loom from the horizon, though scripsie (the final project for engineering undergrad) currently has priority.

The greenhouse has since been named Florence Nightingale’s Intensive Care Unit for Photosynthetic Eukaryotes. Given the founder of modern nursing has a name that means “blossoming,” it seemed appropriate. The first patient card: Olivia. Whether the plant is dying or improving is difficult to say; I’m considering changing the name just to start a new beginning, but we’ll see how the greenhouse fairs first.

Women’s Day: Domestic protests erupt over location of ICU

An epic battle rages over the location of Florence Nightengale’s Intensive Care Unit for Photosynthetic Eurkaryotes. Olivia has sprouted the first signs of a recovery leaf and Mr Omar as since evicted her from her window seat in favor of more desk space for my studies. ICU yet to be returned. Unsure if she will survive the move.

Olivia’s Stats

WeekNumber of LeavesLargest Leaf Dimensions (mm)Notes
112185 x 55Listened to Gregorian Chant
211231 x 97Soil accidentally contaminated with salt. Cleaned, repotted to bigger pot.
37231 x 97Considerable pleading & misting
45228 x 97Not really the right soil now. Given a large amount of compost. #PrayersForOlivia
55228 x 97 Added petri dishes of water for humidity. Emergency social media debut.
6 6228 x 97Olivia’s compost has sprouted worms (of some sort) possible tiny leaf showing
76228 x 97No comment 22/05
84228 x 97Cut off 2 of the 5 blackening leaves. tiny leaf-start still there. Worms gone.
94228 x 97Three big leaves dying. Little leaf not dead.
104228 x 97Found better soil. Repotted midweek. Comments same as week 9.
111Cut off dying leaves. Cold week.
121No comment 3/07
131Little leaf still curled up like a pencil. Olivia moved to newly-built ICU.
141Little leaf has brown tip
151Little leaf bigger and opening
16175 x 30Little leaf has opened. Domestic protests erupt after Mr Omar moves the ICU to a shadowy part of the house. ICU still not returned.
171100 x 44Leaf is unusual texture with prominent veins and receded leaf parts, almost like it’s plastic. But it is very real and is not wilted.
18Skipped a week just because
191Looks the same. Did not feel like measuring.
201119 x 60Midterms. Olivia moved out of the ICU. Now neighbor to the peace lily.