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Dracula Orchids: The Monkey Faced Flower

Updated on November 18, 2016
Dracula dalstroemii
Dracula dalstroemii | Source
Dracula ubangina
Dracula ubangina | Source

What are dracula orchids?

The dracula orchid is sometimes mistakenly called a monkey orchid. Information on the "real" monkey orchid can be found here: Strange and Unusual Plants.

To date there have been 118 different varieties of dracula flowers discovered, some in the last 20 years. Once belonging to to the genus Masdevallia, they were reclassified by Carlyle Luer as a new genus in 1978.

According to Lorena Endara of the University of Florida, "Carlyle Luer saw these orchids as little bats flying in the forest since the flower faces down and the triangular sepals and the long sepaline tails display parallel to the ground."

Dracula flowers can be found from the lower elevations of Mexico to the higher elevations of Central and South America. Almost one-half of the dracula genus can be found growing in Ecuador, and the majority of these orchids grow at elevations of 2,000 to 8,000 feet.

These orchids are both epiphytic (grow in trees) and terrestrial. They grow amid "cloud forests" which keep the surrounding land moist. The Freedictionary.com defines a cloud forest as a "tropical forest, often near peaks of coastal mountains, that usually has constant cloud cover throughout the year."



Dracula chestertonii
Dracula chestertonii | Source

Why do many dracula orchids resemble fungus?

Dracula flowers are an oddity in the the world of strange plants. While many animals and fungi have evolved to resemble flowers and plants, the dracula flower has evolved to resemble, both in appearance and smell, fungi - specifically mushrooms.

Many fungi depend on flies and other small creatures to spread their spores, ensuring the survival of the fungi. Dracula orchids have evolved in appearance and smell to take advantage of "fungus gnats," which are attracted to mushrooms.

The fungus gnats are attracted to the labellum (a specialized petal) of the flower which resembles a mushroom. Scientists speculate that the spots on the orchid's petals are a bit of visual trickery, duping the fungus gnats into believing other gnats are crawling over the flower.

The dracula flower also emits a chemical scent that is identical to the scents produced by some of the regional mushrooms. When the fungus gnats crawl into the center of the flower, the gnats pick up pollen, which is then spread to surrounding flowers by the unwitting, but none-the-wiser gnats.

Dracula velutina
Dracula velutina | Source
Dracula gorgona
Dracula gorgona | Source
How to raise humidity levels
Mist orchid daily
Use a humidifier
Keep in high humidity rooms, such as a bathroom
Place pot on a plate of pebbles which are covered in water. Do not set the pot directly in the water.
Dracula vampira
Dracula vampira | Source

Growing Dracula Orchids

Many plants will thrive in a hothouse, but these orchids would do best in a "coolhouse."

Since most of the dracula flowers grow in mountainous cloud forests, the orchids grow best with cool temperatures and high humidity.


Containers for planting

  • Because these flowers are epiphytes and often grow downward in trees, it is best to plant them in an atypical planter. Some people use mesh baskets, netting or lattice-work baskets. These can be filled with sphagnum moss and small wood chips instead of soil.

Watering

  • Dracula flowers have no mechanism to store water, so the roots should not be allowed to completely dry out. The roots should not be kept so wet as to encourage root rot so a frequent light misting is beneficial.

Humidity

  • Keeping the plants at a 70-100% humidity level greatly takes the guesswork out of how often to water your orchids. Since the orchids are epiphytes, they can draw needed moisture from humid air.
  • To raise the humidity, try to mist the leaves daily; You may find it beneficial to use a humidifier, especially in the winter when the air is dryer.

Temperature

  • Dracula orchids prefer temperatures below 70 degrees F. Higher temperatures can wilt and even kill these orchids.
  • To encourage blooming, nighttime temperatures should drop at least 5-10 degrees over a period of months.

Light

  • Because it is an orchid that grows in forest, the dracula species prefers low to moderate light. Experts recommend a light level of 50% or less.

D. robledorum
D. robledorum | Source

A visit to an orchid farm

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    • Shades-of-truth profile image

      Emily Tack 3 years ago from USA

      I really enjoyed this, especially since I am surrounded by strange orchids at home. Some of the ones you featured are truly bizarre!

    • Gcrhoads64 profile image
      Author

      Gable Rhoads 4 years ago from North Dakota

      Thank you, Peggy. I really appreciate the support. :)

      I love the odd and unusual things in life. They are so fascinating!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

      What an unusual flower is the Dracula orchid. Enjoyed learning about it and how to care for it. Voted up and interesting and will pin to my flowers board on Pinterest.