Dracula Lotax: A Case Study in Blooming a Difficult Orchid

Updated on May 3, 2019
cmjackson profile image

I am an avid gardener who loves sharing info on unique plants and how to grow them.

Members of the orchid subtribe of Pleurothallidinae, the pleurothallids, are some of the most unique, otherworldly, and interesting members of the orchid family. Genera included among the pleurothallids are Dracula, Lepanthes, Masdevallia, Platystele, Pleurothallis, Restrepia, and others. Dracula is particularly of interest for its often deceptively large, starkly-colored flowers, which range from the nearly-black Dracula ubangina and Dracula vampira, to the nearly-pure white Dracula deltoidea. Many are mottled or striped with red or brown shades, or covered in fine hairs; some can even be a lovely shade of pink, like Dracula incognita or Dracula iricolor. However, most can be recognized by their triangular shape, their long, spiny tips on their "petals," and their exaggerated, cup-shaped, labellum (the lip-shaped petal in the middle of the flower).

Why Is This Orchid Named Dracula?

Contrary to what you might think, Dracula is not named, despite the many whimsical species names, after the famous vampire, but is literally from what the flowers resembled to the namers: "little dragon." Dracula flowers nearly always have, given the shape of the labellum and two very small, spotted petals, the appearance of a face. This is most clear, perhaps, in the aptly-named Dracula simia, which indisputably resembles a little monkey face. This also brings up one of the most peculiar aspects of Dracula flowers generally: its three actual petals are often nearly insignificant; one becoming specialized into the cup-shaped labellum, and the other two hardly even showing at all, becoming nearly imperceptible little protuberances on either side of the anther cap (the "eyes" of the face). The very large, showy "petals" that makes the species so beautiful are actually the sepals that surround the petals, which have become more specialized into much more attractive, petal-resembling tepals. If you count, you will always find five "petals" on any orchid flower, from any genus--two petals, three tepals-- and then the labellum as the specialized sixth petal in the middle of the flower.

What Conditions Do They Prefer?

Unfortunately, Draculas can be very difficult to find, and even more difficult to raise. Many of them are native to areas that have extremely high humidity, paired with strange temperature requirements, with many preferring temperatures that never vary too much from the high 40s to low 60s. In my experience, the most forgiving (and most readily available) species of Dracula is Dracula lotax, the "clown dracula." It is characterized by a red center surrounded by hairy, white tepals, which are tipped with long, purplish-red spines. The leaves of the plant are nearly indistinguishable from ordinary turf grass, so successful cultivation might make it a unique conversation starter: a unique, peculiar looking flower emerging from what appears to be a pot of something much more mundane. For this reason also, if you have cats, beware: they can't tell the difference, either.

Dracula lotax prefers temperatures, year-round, to remain in the 50s to low 60s. If you live in a naturally cool climate, this is no problem. However, in the balmy south, you may have to give it some special care. Unlike many other of the more "picky" Draculas, I have had my lotax put up with temperatures even up to 100 degrees; however, it seemed to be unhappy with the conditions and did not grow nearly as quickly. It always seemed to grow better in the winter, when the temperature never got about 65. I tried it in fine fir bark, as well as in a mixture of vermiculite and charcoal bits, but it always seemed to be just "hanging on." It wasn't until I potted it in a reasonably large pot with loosely packed white sphagnum moss that it really started to thrive. The pot is only about half-filled with the moss, leaving the leaves to be partially obscured by the pot's edge. This, combined with keeping the moss uniformly moistened, creates a perfect environment for the water to evaporate, keeping the plant humid and the air cooler around it. Like all Draculas, it prefers less light than other orchids such as the Cattleyas and their kin, and for a while when I had to have it in a bright window, I placed a piece of paper behind it to filter the light.

The plant did nothing at all but grow for the first two years I had it. I never had "unlocked the secret" to getting it to flower. It would frequently, all throughout the winter, start sending out little flower spikes, testing the air as it were to see if conditions were ripe for flowering, but they would always wither and die before too long. Of course, through this time it was experiencing major temperature fluctuations as I moved it around and tried to give it a good environment, it also had to re-accommodate itself to new potting media as I experimented with what it would prefer the best, and frequently had to deal with wet or dry spells, as it was very difficult to maintain a perfectly uniform environment, which is what it prefers.

How Did I Get Dracula to Bloom?

Finally, I got frustrated. I stuck it down in the basement, next to a cracked and drafty eastward facing window, where it only gets direct light for a couple hours in the early morning, and otherwise just gets a dull glow. Once winter hit, it would frequently get down to near 45 as the cool air seeped through, and never gets above 55 except in the summer, when it might raise to 60. The air is stale and unmoving, and the humidity is very high around the plant. I have never seen it thrive so well. Around the end of September, when it started getting very cool at night, I noticed it was once again making its yearly attempt at blooming.

However, unlike previous years, the spike kept getting longer, and longer. By the middle of December, a green bulb formed on the end, which began swelling and elongating. Finally, around Christmas, it changed from green to white, and the tips began to turn pink. After Christmas, it slowly began opening, finally becoming fully open about a week and a half into January. After such an excruciatingly slow maturation process, where I was constantly terrified that it would randomly blast the bud and go back to growing more leaves, I was very pleased and relieved to finally getting it to bloom for the first time.

This Is What I Have Learned from My Experiences Which Led to My Final Success

  • A lightly packed, airy white sphagnum moss medium promotes the best and healthiest root growth.
  • Maintaining the temperature, as much as possible, at a constant 55-65 degrees encourages the most growth and health.
  • Having soft, filtered light throughout the day, with a small amount of brighter light in the earliest morning stimulated the fastest growth.
  • Using distilled water, free of all dissolved solids or other contaminants was far superior to any other water source I tried.
  • Keeping the moss moist, but not damp or wet encouraged the best growth.
  • Avoiding disturbing the plant in orientation, temperature, light, or watering conditions kept it happiest.
  • Not allowing blowing air, which may be drying, near the plant, is ideal.
  • Keeping the humidity around 80% around the plant seemed to be ideal.

While this may sound daunting at first, what this realistically translated to was sticking it in an eastward facing window in the basement, splashing a little bit of distilled water into the pot a couple times a week, and otherwise not thinking about it or touching it at all. It seems that with a "picky plant" like Dracula lotax, less is more. I haven't even given it any fertilizer in nearly five months and when I do after the flower drops, it will be very dilute.

I can only assume that cultivating other pleurothallids according to these specifications will render similar results, and I wish you luck in your own attempts to grow Draculas. I would love to see any pictures of your successes!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • profile image

      Jose B 

      3 years ago

      very nice piece

      Very precise and informative although i do not keep lotax


    • profile image


      4 years ago

      I'm an absolute newcomer to Orchids and I've started with six Draculas including the Lotax.

      This article is excellent as it has given me more tips and insight into these plants than anywhere on the net, articulately, yet simply written, I feel I'm now better prepared to deal with this plant. I particularly enjoyed your discovering they grew best in sphagnum moss so must get some moss and change from a proprietary orchid medium I have started them in.

      Thank you for your inspirational article.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, dengarden.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)