Well, when people think about Dracula, they often imagine vampires, ancient mansions, blood, garlic and holy cross. But when you talk about Dracula do not forget about Dracula orchid. There is something vampiric and gothic in their flowers – take a look on these brown to black sepals with some bloody red shades. And see this absolutely fabulous long spurs on sepals. How do not think, that this curious orchid is a sinister bloodsucker? But it is not. Actually, Dracula flowers are just mimicking some mountain fungi – they are pollinated by fungi flies, so they have to look just like fungus. These long spurs on sepals are not for blood sucking – they are just part of Glamour to make fungus fly think that this is not a flower. And even their terete lips, looking in some species just like vampire grim, is just a part of camouflage. And these all gothic-looking colors are just colors of Andean mushrooms. So, don’t be afraid of these little pretty abominations – they do not suck blood and they don’t transform into bats at cold winter nights.
They are just very, very unusual orchids, belonging to Pleurothallids group and close relatives of much more colorful and friendly looking Masdevalia orchids (and before they had belonged to the same genus).
Diversity of Dracula orchids
Dracula orchids are caespitose epiphytes, lithophytes, and terrestrials from Andean mountains. They are sympodial orchids without pseudobulbs or any water-storage organs but with large leaves (only one per a stem) which are thin and could for some degree take the function of water storage, but not so effectively as pseudobulbs do. Flowers born at a base of a “leaf” (actually a stem with a leaf) and grow downside, only few species have upright growing flowers, so they are have something similar with Stanhopea orchids, which also have downside-growing flowers. Flowers are usually large and quite unusual. For instance, the type species Dracula chimaera has large, 9 inches wide flowers with hairy sepals, which are beige with dark brown spots and look rather monstrous and gorgeous – the name “chimaera” means a mythical monster, which is one part goat, one part lion, and one part snake. Dracula chiroptera has 6 inches wide yellow flowers with blood-red spots and flowers look like a bat, and a plant lip, a column, and spots arrange in form of bat face, hence the name – chiroptera means bat, and there is also another “bat” Dracula – Dracula vespertilio with its 5 inch wide flowers having rather a batty look. Dracula andreettae was named after Ecuadorean orchid collector (he was not a vampire!) and has 8 inches long and 2 inches wide beautiful yellow with bloody red flowers, and it is very beautiful yellow color form, which bright and colorful, rather than gothic. Draculla bella (which means beautiful) has fragrant 9 inch wide beautiful flowers which have yellow with orange with bloody red scorch marks. Dracula gorgona is another Dracula, named after mythical monster – it has beautiful hairy 6 inch wide flowers with bloody red dots, Dracula hirsute with its 8 inch wide flowers has rather a carnivorous look. Dracula nosferatu is named after famous Nosferatu vampire and has solid purple flowers with a white lip. And there is Dracula vlad-tepes which is named after real Walachian Dracula – Vlad Tepes. Vlad Tepes Dracula has bizarre beige with black markings 3 inch wide flowers. Dracula anthracina has solid coal black flowers which give it really gothic look – it is a real Black Orchid. And do not forget about Dracula vampira with beautiful 4 inch wide striped flowers which are white and black. But do not think that there are only monstrous or vampire-looking Draculas, there is a large group of not so sinister-looking Draculas. Dracula simia is actually monkey looking – it has 6 inches wide white with red flowers which look like monkey face, and therefore they are called monkey orchids. And some other species are also called monkey orchids. Tiny Dracula mopsus’s flowers look like as pug. And there is Dracula gigas with no giant but extremely lovely 4 inches wide salmon flowers. Dracula houtteana has nice pink with red spots flowers, Dracula verticulosa has large up to 7 inches bright yellow sunny flowers. Dracula inaequalis (synonym Dracula carderi) with bell-shaped white with brown flowers is rather nice. And Dracula berthae is white with pink dots looks like as Masdevallia and not gothic but lovely.
All Draculas come from Andean cloud forests, so they are rather difficult in cultivation and not suitable for common room conditions. They are cool to cold orchids – they demand temperatures no higher than 68 F at daytime and even cooler at night, higher temperatures just kill the plant, it would become metabolically unstable and weaker for fungal infections. The second thing is high air humidity – they need 70-100% humidity and good air circulation, so without cool greenhouse with enough fans do not try to grow Dracula, you will simply kill the plant. Watering should be ample with distilled or reverse osmosis water – hard tap water is poisonous for plants, all Draculas are oligitrophs, so even fertilizers should be on distilled water and one quarter in strength. The substrate for Dracula should be pure sphagnum or sphagnum with some bark and tree fern to keep roots staying moist, and it is a good idea to pot Draculas into a basket with holes in the bottom. Light preferables are just like for Phalaenopsis – semi-shade is OK.
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