close up of a monkey face orchid plant

How To Care For Monkey Face Orchids (Dracula Simia) – Complete Guide

close up of a monkey face orchid plant

The Monkey Face Orchid is an incredibly unique ornamental plant originating from the high cloud-filled forests of South America.

As you might’ve guessed, the blossom appears like a miniature monkey face, making this a fun home gardening challenge with some adorable results. 

This complete care guide will provide you with all you need to know about the Monkey Face Orchid and how to care for this amazing botany wonder. 

Care Summary

Monkey Face Orchids can be quite finicky and require very specific living conditions. For this reason, it isn’t the best choice of plant for a beginner gardener – but with this guide, you’ll be able to take care of it.

For those wanting to just get started in orchid-raising, consider an easier to care for plants such as the Moth Orchid or Oncidium Orchids.

The perfect environment for the Monkey Face Orchid includes:

  • Deep shade
  • High humidity
  • Cool temperatures
  • Hardiness zones 9-11

It comes down to hacking the perfect equation of humidity, temperature, and circulation.

Monkey Orchids: A Brief Background

There are over 110 varieties of this magnificent plant, and this grouping is known as the Dracula genus and over half of them are found in Ecuador alone.

They’re a bit tricky to master, like a lot of orchid species, but the reward for success is a perennial plant that can bloom during any season and whose blossoms scent of a ripe orange.

The scientific name of Dracula Simia pays homage to the blossom of this plant as it roughly translates to “little dragon monkey”.

Though, some people agree that “Dracula” is in reference to the long fang-like spikes that emerge from its petals, and the dark blood-red color of some stems in the family. 

Growing up to 2 feet tall, this orchid plant can produce blossoms in a multitude of colors like red, lavender, yellow, and more.

The pattern of the petals vary greatly per plant and can feature smooth color, dots, or even stripes.

However, the distinguishing feature of a monkey-face appearing blossom is consistent throughout the genus. 

Three distinct petals that form into long spines originate from the blossom’s center and converge to reveal a construction reminiscent of a monkey face!

It’s such a likeness to our banana-loving pals, a capuchin monkey to be exact, that you might do a double-take.

The small blooms expand to an average of 2”, but with their spikes included, can reach up to a staggering 11” large. 

The composition of the Monkey Face Orchid includes:

  • A short rhizome: an underground plant stem with nodes that originate roots and shoots.
  • Dense clusters of stems shoot off of the main rhizome.
  • Each stem grows a long tipped leaf from light to dark green.
  • Flower stalks terminate is a single triangular blossom
group of monkey face orchids

Origin

The Monkey Face Orchid hails from the steep mountainsides of Ecuador and Peru. It grows in tropical highland forests with elevations between 1,000-2,000 meters.

Some of the species in the Dracula genus are considered endangered and some scientists even report that extinctions have occurred. 

Discovered by a botanist named Carlyle A. Luer, it was found in the high mountains in the late 70s.

Luer is the author of the book The Native Orchids of The United States and Canada and worked as the senior curator at the Missouri Botanical Garden. 

The tropical beauty of the Monkey Face Orchid pairs well with other lush plants, such as dwarf banana trees, pineapple plants, and rubber trees. 

Acquiring Seeds: Be Aware!

It may be difficult to locate official seeds for the Monkey Face Orchid, as a lot of foreign seed sellers will intentionally mislabel their product to scam you.

It would be best to contact an orchid-specific nursery to acquire seeds or plants.

Keep in mind that orchid seeds range in sizes from nearly invisible dust particles to the size of a pinhead.

This is incredibly small and takes a lot of skill and special techniques to care for. 

Ideal Location For Your Monkey Face Orchid

In the wild, orchids dwell among rocks and trees, using their unique roots to cling on to surfaces.

Their roots are not only for anchoring the plant, but they also function as important mineral collectors and can quickly soak up large amounts of water. 

These features lead to particular needs when it comes to setting the ideal environment for your Monkey Face Orchid. 

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Outdoors

If you live in hardiness zones 9-11 you may be able to grow this wonder in your garden outdoors. This is a warm subtropic type climate.

In the United States, the hardiness zones 9-11 are located along the West Coast and the southern states.

You’ll achieve the best results with a nighttime temperature ranging 40-45 degrees and a day time temperature averaging 68 degrees.

Humidity should remain around 80%.

Indoors

Much easier to control conditions, many orchid growers prefer to keep their plants indoors.

However, with the high humidity needs of the Monkey Face Orchid, it is probably best suited for greenhouse residence.  

One of the most important factors to replicate in the indoor growing world for these orchids is air circulation.

Especially considering the high humidity, proper air circulation will be essential to preventing root rot. 

To maintain adequate humidity, some growers like to keep their pots above a shallow tray of water, then move them to hang once they are about to flower. 

A lot of home gardeners like to keep their orchids in a transparent orchid pot that has holes across the sides and bottom, then set the clear pot in a more decorative ceramic vessel.

This serves the orchid’s needs and also keeps your indoor garden aesthetically pleasing. 

monkey face orchid, dracula simia

Soil For Your Monkey Face Orchid

It’s important to use orchid-specific soil for your plant.

Soils that are made for orchids will be able to hold moisture but drain rapidly and provide adequate circulation and airflow. The mix should be bark-forward to best replicate an orchid’s origin environment. 

If a store mix is not available to you, or you prefer to go the DIY route, it’s possible to create a replica on your own with the following recipe:

  • Four parts medium Fir bark (any variety: Douglas, coastal redwood, etc)
  • One part moisture retention material (like sphagnum moss, coconut husk chips, or perlite)
  • One part medium charcoal

After some experimenting, you might decide that your orchid requires a denser combination, in which case you can add some sand.

To improve drainage, you can add loose material like stones or terra-cotta pieces to the bottom of your pot before scooping in your soil mix. 

The best soil pH to maintain for the Monkey Face Orchid is 5.5 to 7.0. Using inexpensive pH test strips will allow you to quickly and accurately assess the acidity of your soil. 

Fertilizing Monkey Face Orchids

Feeding your orchid extra nutrients is a great way to ensure you get the best bloom from the healthiest plant.

Compared to other types of plants, orchids don’t need as much fertilizer to prosper. 

You’ll see labels that reference the term “NPK”, an acronym for the essential trace elements of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

The recommended strength of these nutrients for orchids is a mix containing 20-20-20 at the max. 

What do these minerals do for an orchid?

Nitrogen: necessary for plant health and promoting lush growth
Phosphorous: essential for healthy roots and blossoms.
Potassium: needed for healthy stems and plant durability.

Look for: at least a 20-20-20 ratio of NPK; the use of ammoniacal nitrogen or nitrate nitrogen; extra calcium (15%) and magnesium (8%); organic solutions.

Avoid: fertilizer mixes with over 20% nitrogen or those containing urea. These elements will ultimately harm your orchid. 

Orchids can be fed once a month, but do best when fertilized every week using a diluted solution.

The popular term is “feed your orchids weakly, weekly”. 

When to fertilize:

  • Option 1: fertilize a weak diluted solution weekly
  • Option 2: fertilize a standard strength once a month

When NOT to fertilize:

  • When your plant is sick: fertilizer won’t do any good.
  • When the roots are very dry, as the fertilizer could potentially burn the roots

Watering Monkey Face Orchids

By general rule: water your orchid once per week and mist regularly. This will help to replicate its moist and humid environment.

Even though this plant prefers dark and damp conditions, it’s still possible to overwater it. 

Overwatering happens to be the demise of most housekept orchids!

Your Monkey Face Orchid will do much better being slightly under-watered, but do not let it dry out. 

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The complex root structure is susceptible to rotting in conditions that are too wet.

However, due to the absence of Pseudobulbs, this orchid has less ability to hold water and should therefore not be allowed to dry out.

Tips to abide by when watering your orchid:

  • Don’t overwater!
  • Always water in the morning
  • Pay attention to the orchid

Checking Your Orchid For Moisture

By feel: The most common method of checking an orchids soil is using your finger to feel the soil. This might take a bit of a practiced hand.

Your orchid needs watering when the soil feels only slightly damp to the touch – remember, a Monkey Face Orchid shouldn’t be allowed to dry out.

By sight: Take a look at the roots through the side of your transparent pot. Make it a habit to pay attention to the color of the roots after watering, so you know what to look for.

Generally, the appearance of the roots will indicate if watering is needed. White or silver-hued, time to water. Green or mottled, the orchid is adequately moist

Don’t be tempted to water your orchid with the kitchen sink or bath faucet.

This method is a bit too vigorous for finicky and delicate plants like the Monkey Face Orchid. 

How To Water Your Orchid

  1. Find a container that will fit your orchid pot and fill it with water. Let it sit for 24 hours, or better yet, collect rainwater to use.
  2. Place the orchid into this vessel, making sure the level of the water is just below the top of the orchid pot.
  3. Let soak for 15 minutes.
  4. Remove the orchid pot and set it in the sink to drain off excess. 

Light For Your Monkey Face Orchid

You can conclude what type of climates these plants prefer by acknowledging their highland origins. The Monkey Face Orchid thrives in cool dim environments and it does not like bright light.

Place the orchid in full shade, but not something as dark as a closet. The leaves of the Monkey Face Orchid should also feel cool to the touch. If they are warmer than this, you might watch to see if your plant is exposed to too much sun throughout the day. 

Ideal Humidity

Remember that the origin of the Monkey Face Orchid is in the cloud forests of South America.

So, you can imagine the type of humidity it needs to have constant exposure to.

Along with that cool dark environment that the plant prefers, they also need consistent moist and humid conditions. 

To provide a humid condition, growers use:

  • A greenhouse environment
  • Nearby shallow bowls of water
  • Regular and daily misting (avoid misting the flowers directly)

If you notice the blossoms collapsing, it may be due to the environment being too low in humidity. 

Repotting

After several years of growing, your plant might become too big for its pot.

At this time, you’ll want to repot your orchid to give it more space and avoid the roots getting cramped.

It’s likely that your orchids will need repotting every 2 years to maintain optimal health. 

The best time to repot is right after your orchid has finished flowering and is preparing to start new growth.

Signs it’s time to repot:

  • Overgrown roots
  • The plant is looking cramped and too small for a container
  • Roots are beginning to rot (though this might be a sign of other stress or disease)
  • The potting medium is breaking down or decomposing 

You’ll want to follow a specific method when repotting your orchid. You must sterilize pots and tools before the task. 

Sterilize your pots and tools by:

  1. Washing your hands
  2. In a well-ventilated area, mix 1/2 cup cleaning solution to 1-gallon water
  3. Soak pots and tools in this solution for at least 5 minutes

This sanitization process is important when repotting your plant. Orchids are very sensitive to bacteria and you want to make sure you provide a clean and ideal environment. 

Once you’re ready to move your orchid, choose a pot that’s one size larger than the old one.

Repotting Process:

  1. Sanitize pots and tools, wash your hands, or wear clean gloves.
  2. Prepare the pot: add an orchid potting mix, or a home recipe (see the Soil Guide above). 
  3. Gently remove the orchid from its old pot
  4. Observe the roots – prune off any dead or unhealthy looking roots
  5. Plant your orchid: with the base of the plant even with the top of the pot, fill in the surrounding space with a potting mix
  6. Stabilize: Use a bamboo stake to keep the plant upright and secure. Orchid clips will help keep it attached to the stake. 
  7. Water and care: pay extra attention to your newly potted plant for about a week after. Lots of mist and water will keep it happy. 
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Propagating Your Monkey Face Orchid

According to the American Orchid Society, orchids can reproduce by seed or by vegetative propagation.

The latter is recommended for beginners. We’ll discuss both options below. 

From Seed

As mentioned previously, the orchid seed is incredibly small. This micro size is due in part to the fact that the seed does not contain any nutritional storage.

This causes complications, as the seeds will need a lot of assistance to grow. For this reason, seed germination is typically accomplished in a lab setting. 

Before germination, orchid seeds and the tools used to handle them must be sterilized to remove surface contaminants.

There are multiple ways to approach seed sterilization, the simplest being to use a 17% bleach solution soak for 3 min, then rinse in sterilized water. 

Method 1: Use of mycorrhizal fungi
This method attempts to replicate the soil of the orchid’s origin environments.

These special fungi act in a symbiotic relationship by entering roots and providing nutrients to new plants. 

Method 2: Asymbiotic germination, aka “flasking” 
Seeds are germinated with the assistance of a seaweed product called Agar, which acts like the fungi above to provide nutrients and growth hormones.

It can take a very long time for leaves to sprout (up to 2 months), and at this point, you can consider transplanting.

The Monkey Face orchid may take as long as 8 years or short as 3 years to blossom.

Yet, after this first blossom appears, you can expect consistent flowers for the remainder of the plant’s life, which can be upwards of 20 years. 

Vegetative Propagation 

The easiest method to propagate a Monkey Face Orchid is by rhizome division.

This is done by separating pieces of the root structure, mostly when a new plant has emerged.

Using sterilized tools, you will cut the offshoot from the parent plant and move it to its prepared pot. 

Special Needs

Orchids, in general, have very specific care and growing needs, the Monkey Face Orchid especially.

For this reason, regular care falls under special needs! Watch for signs of neglect or poor care and address it quickly. 

Commit to regular care of your orchid by:

  • Maintaining a watering schedule
  • Avoiding direct or bright light
  • Pruning dead leaves, roots, and bloom stems (year-round)
  • Inspecting for signs of poor health

Pests

There are many pests and diseases that can threaten an orchid. Common plagues include aphids, mealybugs, whiteflies, scales, snails, ants, and mold.

Inspect around your orchid (looking under leaves too) for any resident bugs or mold growth. 

Take care to keep your tools and pots sanitized when dealing with your orchid.

Good sanitization and a clean environment will help. If you notice anything looking off, let us know in the comments and we’ll do our best to help.

Orchid issues are best dealt with swiftly! 

Troubleshooting Tips

Here are a few common problems that people often have with Monkey Face Orchids and how to deal with them.

  • Roots look overgrown: time to repot your orchid
  • Roots are starting to rot: time to repot your orchid
  • Leaves are dark green and floppy: your plant is over-fertilized
  • Leaf tips are black: not enough humidity or water
  • Spikes and flower buds wither: not enough humidity or water
  • Leaves feel hot to the touch: your orchid is getting too much sun
  • Edges of leaves tinged red/purple: your orchid is getting too much sun
  • Yellowish green leaves: your orchid is getting too much sun
  • Leaves are shorter and darker green: your orchid doesn’t have enough light
  • Blossoms or spikes are collapsing without forming flowers: not enough humidity
  • Bud is stagnant and won’t move to flower: not enough humidity 

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