A Complete Guide to the Monkey Orchid Flower

A Complete Guide to the Monkey Orchid Flower

Monkey orchids (Dracula simia) are a unique species of epiphytic orchids with flowers amazingly resembling a monkey’s face—and they all look different!

Instead of having underground roots, monkey orchids and other epiphytic orchids have aerial roots that cling to other plants and objects for support to grow.

We will explore more about the monkey orchid here in this guide. Learn basic information about the plant, its meanings and symbolism, how to maintain it, and a lot more!

Monkey Orchid General Information

Monkey Orchid General Information

Native habitat: Steep mountainsides of Ecuador and Peru

Genus: Dracula

No. of varieties: 110

USDA hardiness zones: 9 to 11

Excellent as: Potted or in-ground plants indoors or outdoors

Hailing from the tall mountains of Ecuador and Peru, monkey orchids bloom all year round, even in the winter.

They belong to the genus Dracula with 110 varieties. This name was given to these flowers due to their dark or rust-red color and vampire-fang-like spurs.

They grow in a subtropical climate in USDA hardiness zones 9 to 11. They have a reputation for being harder to care for compared to other plants.

The rare plants are excellent as potted or in-ground plants indoors or outdoors. Though a bit unusual, they have the timeless beauty and charm of the orchids we know of and love.

Botanical Description of the Monkey Orchid

Botanical Description of the Monkey Orchid

Monkey orchids bear long, sharp spurs and triangular blossoms that resemble Simian monkeys. Many of them sport a dark red floral color with a light shade in the middle. 

Their foliage is long and straight, acting as a perfect contrast to the flowerheads.

Also, they have rhizome roots which produce creeping dense roots and shoots under the ground.

Plus, the magnificent flowers emit a refreshing orange scent, which is one of the qualities gardeners and plant lovers like about them.

What are some popular species of monkey orchids?

Here are some of the most renowned and prized species of monkey orchids:

  1. Dracula amaliae – Also called Amalia’s Dracula, this is a light-colored monkey orchid variety with an evident “monkey nose” in the center.

The flowers measure 4 inches when they’re mature. They come in many colors, from brown to pale yellow.

The blooming period of Amalia’s Dracula goes from winter to spring. They are found in the amazing cloud forests of Columbia.

  1. Dracula benedictii This monkey orchid kind is relatively small with maroon flowers, light-yellow margins, and long siding tails.

These flowers are borne on a sturdy stem with narrow, long leaves. It also originates in the mountainous regions of Columbia.

Each flower measures 1.6 to 2.8 inches in diameter. The mature size of the whole plant is 0.5 to 1 foot.

  1. Dracula wallisiiThis particular orchid looks like a large-chinned frowning monkey with long arms. It is hairy and light rusty red with light yellow patches.

Its flowers are 4 inches wide and almost 10 inches tall, so it’s bigger than most monkey-faced orchids.

Its native home is in the Cordillera regions of Columbia at an altitude of 5,200 to 8,500 feet. And it’s one of the more common types of monkey orchids.

  1. Dracula gigas – It is also known as the giant Dracula plant for its large 10-inch flowers that bloom downward. Its leaves are folded and wavy below the flowers.

It commonly grows in the Andes Mountains in Ecuador and Colombia. Its flowering season spans all year from January to December.

Dracula gigas sports bland orange and yellow flower shades.

  1. Orchis simia – The Orchis simia is another popular monkey orchid. The flower resembles a full-bodied white monkey or a goblin with a tail!

The plant grows in a large cluster and it has six light-green leaves, making it a bit imposing in appearance.

They grow from 6 to 12 inches tall. The common colors of these orchids include pink, purple, and violet.

  1. Dracula hawleyiIt is also called Hawley’s Dracula plant. As opposed to the other varieties mentioned here, it only flowers during autumn.

Furthermore, the flower is small and shallow-lipped with a light brown “monkey head” and light yellow-green “face,” and a very sharp “tail.”

By the way, the flower size is only slightly over an inch wide. It was once thought of as a hybrid of the Dracula gigas and Dracula levii, but this has been disproved. 

Monkey Orchid Word Origin

The monkey orchid’s genus name Dracula means the “son of Dracul,” “son of the dragon,” or simply the “little dragon.” 

Dracul also interestingly means “the devil” in Romania and is an allusion to the famous mythical character Count Dracula.

It’s associated with these images because the monkey orchid has flowers with a light to heavy blood-red color and devilish fang-like tails.

What’s the meaning of monkey orchids?

Monkey orchids somewhat deviate in meaning from regular orchids that most of us are familiar with. The latter means beauty, luxury, and love, among other things.

Meanwhile monkey orchids mean strength, resilience, and persistence due to the fact that they grow in high mountain ranges in specific conditions.

That said, some people believe they are a symbol of bad luck, evil, and mortality because their flowers carry the image of a usually furious or sad monkey staring at the beholder.

From a different perspective, you could think of the monkey orchid as standing for the subtle, unusual, and mysterious things in the world.

How do I care for my monkey orchid?

How do I care for my monkey orchid

Here’s how you can properly take care of your monkey orchid:

1) Planting Environment

You can grow your monkey orchid indoors or outdoors. You’ll need to fulfill the following conditions for it.

  • Growing Monkey Orchids Indoors

A monkey orchid needs a high level of humidity that’s above 80 percent, just like in its growing environment. 

It also needs plenty of air circulation so that the soil will dry up at a normal rate. This protects the plant from root damage and fungal disease.

Since it is hard to meet its high humidity requirements, it is advised that you plant the monkey orchid inside a greenhouse for optimal conditions.

  • Growing Monkey Orchids Outdoors

It prefers a warm subtropical climate which gets warm and humid summers and mildly cold winters.

Monkey orchids are best grown in USDA hardiness 9 to 11 zones. In these regions, frosting is rare and temperatures are quite warm even in the winter.

2) Temperature and Humidity

If you decide to keep them outdoors, a daytime temperature of around 68℉ and a nighttime temperature of 40℉ to 45℉ are ideal.

While monkey orchids can tolerate a moisture level of 40 to 60 percent, they fare better in one that’s above 80 percent.

3) Sunlight

Like where they grow from, monkey orchids enjoy shaded or dappled sun. Putting them in the way of direct sunlight can burn their leaves.

4) Soil

The right soil for a monkey orchid has great drainage and moisture retention. It should also let air circulate into the soil so the plant can breathe and better carry out photosynthesis.

One good recipe for making monkey orchid soil is 4 parts fir bark, 1 part sphagnum moss, perlite, or coconut fibers, and 1 part charcoal.

5) Watering

Water only when the monkey orchid soil has become slightly dry or if its roots look white or silver.

Let lukewarm water run through the soil for the best results. And as to the watering frequency for this plant, it is every seven to ten days.

6) Fertilizer

Use a balanced 20-20-20 fertilizer to foster beautiful flowers and healthy leaves and stems.

Do this once every week during the growing season from spring to autumn. However, reduce this to just once a month during the winter.

Note this caveat, though: do not apply fertilizer to the monkey orchid if you observe it has any issues, for instance, lanky stems or dry roots.

But if you cannot source a balanced fertilizer for some reason, use one of these substitutes instead:

  • Nitrate or ammoniacal nitrogen
  • Extra calcium (15%) and magnesium (8%)
  • Other natural fertilizers

7) Repotting

Generally, you should repot your monkey orchid every two years because then it will have grown too big for the pot.

Sometimes, repotting this plant after it has flowered will encourage more new flowers to grow.

But several other reasons you should transfer it to a new pot with a fresh potting mix are it has root rot, overgrown or cramped roots, and decomposing soil.

Also, since monkey orchid flowers are lightweight, their stems can perfectly support them without the need for staking.

8) Pruning

Luckily, monkey orchids don’t need much pruning. But if you see any dead flowers, leaves, stems, or roots, remove them carefully.

9) Propagation

There are two ways you can propagate the monkey orchid flower: through germinative or vegetative growth.

  • Germinative Growth

This process involves planting the tiny monkey orchid seeds in the ground. They are very small like pinheads.

This method needs a lot of care and maintenance. Thus, if you are a plant rookie, we advise just propagating your monkey orchid by vegetative growth.

  • Vegetative Growth

The second method is far easier and more common to do. It requires you to cut and take a portion of the roots from the mother plant and plant the orchid in the garden bed or pot.

However, before you do so, sterilize your gardening shears and trowels to protect yourself and the plant from bacterial transfer or infection.

What are the common issues of a monkey orchid?

Below are the two most common issues of monkey orchids:

1) Root Damage

Root damage happens to monkey orchids usually because of overwatering them or using a pot with no drainage holes in them to let the excess water out.

The outward signs of root rot are yellowing and wilting orchid flowers or leaves as well as a rotting smell.

And you can validate that the plant is suffering from root rot when you take out the plant and find its roots mushy and colored brown or reddish-brown.

2) Pest Disease

Aggressive pests that can prey on the monkey orchid include snails, spider mites, whiteflies, mealybugs, aphids, scales, and ants.

Soft scales, mealybugs, and aphids suck the sap out of the orchid and make its leaves and stems curled, weak, and stunted.

Spider mites, which can be identified by their dual spots, consume the bottom of the leaves and suck its chlorophyll, taking away their healthy green color.

On the other hand, thrip insects feed on open flowers and flower buds, resulting in deformed and closed flowers.

So, if you see these irritating critters or the damage they left in their paths, spray the plant with neem oil or insecticidal soap. Bear in mind that you might have to dispose of badly affected plants lest the bug infestation spreads to the others.

FAQs about the Monkey Orchid

FAQs about the Monkey Orchid

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