Everything You Need to Know About Growing and Caring for Monkey Orchids at Home
Take one look at monkey orchids, and you’ll have no question about the meaning behind their names. Their flowers resemble a monkey’s face! While these plants are a delight to look at, they’re a bit tricky to properly care for. Here we’ll take you through everything you need to know about successfully growing and nurturing Monkey Orchids at home, plus learn about their history, origins, meaning, and symbolism in the world today.
- Monkey Orchids – The Essentials
- About Monkey Orchids
- Popular Monkey Face Orchid Cultivars
- Uses and Benefits of Monkey Face Orchids
- Monkey Orchids Meaning & Symbolism
- How to Grow and Care for Monkey Face Orchids at Home
- Common Problems, Pests & Diseases and treatments
- Monkey Orchids FAQ
Monkey Orchids – The Essentials
Monkey orchids (Dracula simia) are epiphytic orchids native to Ecuador. Their flowers resemble monkey faces, leading to their name. This species is quite rare and difficult to care for, but it is a prized collector’s item.
About Monkey Orchids
Monkey Orchids – Family, Genus, and Taxonomy
- Family: Orchidaceae
- Genus: Dracula
- Species: simia
Botanical Characteristics, Colors, Fragrances, and Toxicity
Dracula simia flowers clearly resemble a monkey face, but it takes some closer investigation to see why.
When you first look at these plants, you’ll notice red flowers. While you may think the red parts are petals, they are actually sepals. The three sepals all contain elongated and slender tips, which people refer to as tails.
Two small, dark petals sit inside the sepals. These act as the eyes of the monkey’s face. The flower’s lip is light-colored and set inside the large sepals. It forms the monkey’s nose and lips.
Monkey orchids emerge from an underground rhizome. Multiple stalks grow from the plant, and each stalk develops a single flower. The whole plant can grow up to 20 inches tall.
These orchids have a sweet citrus smell that resembles oranges.
Monkey face orchids are non-toxic to humans as well as to animals like dogs and cats.
History & Origins of Monkey Orchids
Up until 1978, monkey orchids belonged to the Masdevallia genus. This genus name pays tribute to Spanish botanist Jose Masdeval.
While the Masdevallia genus still exists, the monkey orchid no longer belongs to this genus.
In 1978, Carlyle Luer realized the Masdevallia genus contained various types of plants. He established a new genus and named it Dracula, which is the Latin name for a dragon.
All members of the Dracula genus have long, slender tails on their sepals. This factor leads to a dragon-like appearance and the genus name.
The monkey face orchid is just one of 118 species in the Dracula genus. Other species such as Dracula aphrodes also resemble monkey faces.
Dracula simia still exists in the forest of Ecuador. It is cultivated as a houseplant, but it is rather rare.
Some orchid collectors have monkey face orchids in their homes. However, these plants are most often found in conservatories and botanical gardens.
As we mentioned above, the genus name Dracula refers to the dragon-like appearance of the extended sepals. The species name simia means monkey.
What Regions Are Monkey Orchids Native To?
Orchids of the Dracula genus are native to the mountains of Columbia, Ecuador, and Peru. The monkey face orchid is native to Ecuador.
In the wild, it thrives in cool, mountainous areas.
When Do Monkey Orchids Bloom?
Monkey orchids produce multiple blooms on separate stalks. These flowers often bloom at different times throughout the year.
Popular Monkey Face Orchid Cultivars
There is only one cultivar of the monkey face orchid, Dracula simia. However, other Dracula orchid species resemble monkeys as well.
Dracula gigas has pinkish-red sepals with faint stripes. The red petals and pink lips form a monkey face.
Many people think Dracula gigas flowers resemble the little capuchin monkey.
Dracula benedictii has dark maroon sepals with a light yellow interior and super long tails. The petals form a cute monkey face.
Dracula wallisii has gorgeous light yellow sepals speckled with maroon. The flower has a large light-colored lip that gives the appearance of a big-chinned monkey.
Uses and Benefits of Monkey Face Orchids
Monkey face orchids are used as ornamental orchids. However, since they’re not the easiest orchids to grow, they aren’t very common in ordinary homes.
While humans don’t eat these orchids, pollinators love them. In the wild, bees, ants, and moths pollinate these flowers.
For more, see our in-depth guide to orchid plant uses and benefits.
Monkey Orchids Meaning & Symbolism
While these orchids are quite cute, their symbolism is very different. Despite what you may think, they don’t bring about happiness and joy.
Many people think that these plants symbolize evil and death. However, plenty of people also have kept them in their homes without any ill effects!
Since these flowers are quite rare and difficult to care for, they also symbolize perseverance and strength.
How to Grow and Care for Monkey Face Orchids at Home
When you choose a container for monkey orchids, you’ll want to look for a pot that other orchids would like. Make sure the roots have room to spread.
An essential component of a proper pot is drainage holes. These holes allow excess water to escape which prevents issues with root rot.
Monkey Orchid Soil Preferences
In their native habitats in Ecuador, monkey orchids don’t grow in soil. Rather they grow atop other plants. They don’t hurt these plants but simply use them as structural support.
If you grow a monkey face orchid at home, you probably won’t grow it on another plant. Instead, you’ll use a mix that is well-suited for these orchids.
A potting mix specifically designed for orchids is a great choice. These are well-draining mixes that contain plenty of chunky material. The All-Natural potting mix by Perfect Plants is a good one.
If you want to make your own mix, combine 3/4 bark chips with 1/4 peat moss.
For more, see our essential guide to the best orchid plant soil mix.
Monkey Face Orchid Light Preferences
Since these orchids are tropical plants, you might think they love lots of light. However, this isn’t the case!
Monkey orchids thrive in shady conditions that mimic the habitat present in the forest understory. They will suffer if they are exposed to bright light or even too much indirect light.
It’s best to keep monkey orchids in an area that receives only a few hours of indirect light each day. The interior of your home is typically a good location for these plants.
For more, see our essential guide to orchid plant light requirements and the best locations to position orchid plants in the home.
Temperature and Humidity Preferences
Unlike a lot of other houseplants, monkey orchids prefer cool temperatures. This makes sense since these plants are native to high elevations in Ecuador.
The maximum temperature these orchids can handle is 70ºF. However, they will do much better at temperatures between 50-60ºF.
Like with most houseplants, you’ll want to keep monkey orchids away from both hot and cold drafts. Don’t place them near heating or cooling vents.
Monkey orchids thrive in high humidity. If their environment is slightly dry, they will suffer.
The best way to increase the humidity of an area is with a humidifier. If you want to grow these temperamental plants, a humidifier is a good investment.
High humidity brings the danger of mold. To prevent an outbreak of fungal disease, use a fan for increased air circulation.
When and How to Water Monkey Orchids
Monkey orchids don’t have water-storage organs known as pseudobulbs. Therefore, they can’t store a large amount of water to use during times of drought.
While monkey orchids can last a couple of weeks without water, they will perform best with regular watering.
A good plan is to water your monkey orchid every one to two weeks. If you notice any signs of root rot or other fungal issues, you should decrease the frequency in which you’re watering.
When you water, you want to ensure that excess water is escaping through drainage holes. If this water collects in a saucer, empty it so the plant doesn’t absorb it back up.
For more, see our comprehensive guide to watering orchid plants.
Fertilizing Monkey Orchids
Monkey orchids will benefit from fertilization. It’s best to use a balanced houseplant fertilizer that you dilute to half strength.
Fertilize your orchid once every two weeks from spring through fall. Reduce fertilization to once a month during the winter.
Pruning and Staking
While monkey orchids are tricky to care for, they don’t require complex pruning. Once a flower stalk dies, you can carefully cut it back. That is all the pruning this plant requires.
While many orchids benefit from staking, monkey orchids don’t need it. Since they form only one flower atop each flower stalk, the flowers aren’t heavy. Therefore, the stalk can support the flower’s weight without any additional support.
Common Problems, Pests & Diseases and treatments
Monkey orchids suffer from many of the same problems as other orchids. Keep your eyes out for the following issues.
If you notice your monkey orchid looks like it’s covered with cotton, you’re likely dealing with mealybugs. These soft-bodied insects suck plant juices which weakens the plant and opens it up to disease.
You can handpick small numbers of mealybugs and place them in soapy water. Another option is to spray the pests with insecticidal soap or neem oil.
Aphids are another type of soft-bodied sucking insect. They suck a plant’s sap and spread disease as they feed.
There are hundreds of different types of aphids that appear in a variety of colors. However, all are small with soft bodies.
Aphid populations can quickly spiral out of control, so it’s best to treat aphids when you first spot them. If you only have a small number, you can squish them with your fingers.
For larger aphid infestations, spray the bugs with neem oil or insecticidal soap. You may have to repeat applications to kill all of the pests.
Since these plants live in the shade, they’re especially susceptible to root rot. Overwatering is the number one cause of root rot.
If you notice your orchid is turning yellow or wilting, it might be dealing with root rot. Mushy roots are a sure sign of rot.
If you spot this issue, it’s best to repot your monkey orchid into fresh soil media. Remove the plant and carefully trim any infected roots.
Shake off any old soil and repot your orchid using fresh potting soil. To prevent further root rot, decrease the amount you water. Also, ensure that the pot has proper drainage holes.
If you’re looking for a challenging yet delightful orchid to add to your plant collection, you can’t do much better than a monkey orchid.
Monkey Orchids FAQ
Are Monkey Orchids Real?
Absolutely! While some people think these flowers are painted or photoshopped, they’re real.
Are Monkey Orchids Perennials?
Yes, monkey orchids are perennials. That means they live for multiple years as long as you provide them with the right environment.
How are Monkey Orchids Pollinated?
In the wild, monkey orchids are pollinated by insects. These may include flies, butterflies, and bees.
Cultivated orchids can be pollinated by insects, but humans can also hand pollinate the flowers. This ensures the flowers will form seeds.
Can I Grow Monkey Orchids from Seed?
While it is possible to grow monkey orchids from seed, this is extremely difficult to do at home. Unless you’re a serious plant professional, it’s best to purchase monkey orchid plants rather than seeds.
Briana holds a B.S. in Plant Sciences from Penn State University. She manages a small market garden where she grows vegetables and herbs. She also enjoys growing flowers and houseplants at home.