Monkey Orchid Care: How To Develop This Fascinating Species

Looking for a unique species of orchid to grow? Look no further than the monkey orchid, named for its remarkable resemblance to the face of a monkey.

Dracula simia is the most iconic species of monkey orchid.

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Quick Monkey Orchid Facts

Botanical name: Dracula simia

Height: 8 inches (20cm)

Spread: Similar

Sun exposure: Full to partial shade

Soil requirements: Moist, soil-free potting medium

Hardiness zones: USDA 10-11, or grow indoors

When to plant: Spring

The species most widely known as the monkey face orchid is the Capuchin-like Dracula simia, one of 135 species in the Dracula genus.

However, several other Dracula orchids also look like primates, most notably Dracula gigas, Dracula lotax, and Dracula vampira.

Dracula means “little dragon”, and also nods to the infamous vampire. The name was bestowed on the species due to its curious flower forms, and the plants’ liking for dark, nearly sunlight-free sites.

Orchid care for the monkey orchid is more challenging than many commonly available types of orchids. However, understanding the plant’s native range and climate is the key to success.

Monkey face orchids Dracula gigas, Dracula lotax, and Dracula vampira

Other monkey face orchids in the Dracula genus include (from left): Dracula gigas, Dracula lotax, and Dracula vampira.

(Image credit: Alamy)

Where Do Monkey Face Orchids Grow?

In the wild, Dracula orchids range from Mexico to Peru, with Dracula simia native to Ecuador and Peru.

The climate in Ecuador is temperate year-round. There are two distinct seasons – rainy and dry – with mild to warm temperatures. In Peru, monkey orchids occur in the cloud forests, where temperatures are cool and the air is moist.

Monkey face orchids are epiphytes, meaning they grow in the crotches of trees where they get most of their nutrient needs from detritus and moisture from the air.

Gardeners who live in warm to temperate, mountainous regions can grow monkey orchid plants outdoors in a shady location. The rest of us will need to keep them indoors except for summer, since Dracula simia does not tolerate frost.

Monkey Orchid Care

The monkey orchid is fairly high maintenance. Recreating its natural growing conditions in the home can take some attention.

Flowers are produced in cool, dim locations, so growing them in a low-light area of the home is ideal. However, creating the high humidity necessary can take some doing.

Even with the best care, it may take 6-7 years to see a flower from a monkey orchid – unless you purchase an established plant.

Dracula simia is becoming endangered in its native range due to deforestation and other factors, so be sure to source your plant from a reputable breeder.

Light Requirements

Orchid light requirements are slightly different for every species. As a forest species, the Dracula orchid favors full to partial shade. The tree canopy forms a shelter from harsh sunlight and produces a dappled light.

Monkey flowers thrive in low-light situations, but will need filtered light for at least part of the day. If grown in a bright room, move the plant away from the window and use a gauze curtain to dim the light. The optimum shade level is 70 percent.

If you are using grow lights, the preferred range is 500-1,500 foot-candles.

Temperature & Humidity

The monkey orchid enjoys temperatures between 60°F to 85°F (16°C to 29°C). In its native range, it experiences cool nights – a condition that is difficult to mimic in our homes.

Moving the plant in the evening to an unheated room can provide this temperature variation.

Very high humidity levels are necessary to grow monkey face orchids – at least 80 percent. Use a humidifier and mist the plant daily to help increase the ambient moisture.

Their love of humidity makes monkey orchids good candidates for growing in an orchid terrarium, which allows more control over the growing environment.

Watering Needs

Learning how to water orchids correctly is one of the most important aspects for home growers.

Keep the growing medium moist for these little plants. They should not be allowed to dry out completely. Water needs are highest in the spring and summer, but are diminished by half in the winter.

The type of orchid container will determine how quickly the medium dries out. If it does dry, soak the entire container in water for an hour to fully rehydrate the medium.

Orchids can be picky about the type of water they receive. Municipal water supplies often have chemicals and other items added that the sensitive plants may react badly to, so use rainwater, demineralized, or distilled water.


Orchid fertilizing is essential if you want more flowers. There are many orchid fertilizers available to purchase that will be sufficient.

Use a diluted half-strength formula at least once per month until flowers form. Using a bloom booster formula may encourage the plant to flower.

Soil & Compost

A commercially available orchid potting medium will provide the plant with adequate soil, but sphagnum moss is best. It will hold moisture and create the natural soilless conditions the plant enjoys in nature.

A mixture of 80 percent sphagnum moss and 20 percent perlite will provide a moist, cool home for the plant.


Monkey orchids do not need pruning except to remove dead leaves as they occur. Once the flower has completely died, it may be gently removed.

Problems, Pests & Diseases

Overly dry medium is one of the most common orchid problems when caring for Dracula simia. Too much sunlight and extreme hot conditions are not good for this plant.

Dry plants can become prey to orchid pests, such as scale insects.

How to Propagate Monkey Orchids

Over time, Dracula orchids will produce offsets or “pups”. These are identical to the parent plant, except smaller.

Allow these to grow for several months in the container with the parent. Then divide away the little plants and pot them up alone.

The plant does best when growing in clumps, so only divide away when there are more than three clumps.

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