10 Unusual Orchids That Look Like Monkeys and Other Animals
Welcome to the world of unusual orchids!
If you have never seen the unusual monkey face orchid, you are in for a real treat. Whenever I show these to people at work, they think that the orchid photos are photoshopped. They aren’t.
There are over 20,000 orchid species in the world and many of them are quite amazing. Orchids produce the most interesting rare and exotic flowers, in all different colours, shapes, smells and variegations. They also have a number of interesting tricks regarding fertilisation. It’s a bit scary and sad to think that many of the exotic ones are endangered or are on the verge of extinction. Here is my top ten list of known orchids that look like animals.
1. Monkey Face Orchid
Botanical Name: Dracula simia or Dracula gigas
Found on the sides of the high mountains in south eastern Ecuador and Peru at an elevation of 1,000 - 2,000 meters, the monkey face orchid is a popular but rare favourite among orchid collectors, because it has a distinctive monkey or baboon face in its flower.
Different flowers provide different expressions of the monkey face, from thoughtful to happy to sad.
Often this orchid is called the monkey orchid, though this is technically incorrect, even though they are flowers that look like monkeys.
The botanical name refers to dracula (meaning “little dragon”, as well as people thinking of Count Dracula with the hanging sepal spurs that also look like fangs) and simia (monkey face) and gigas (giant).
There are quite a few dracula orchids that look like monkey faces, but simia and gigas are better known.
Of the 120 species in the dracula family, most of which are found in Ecuador, many are not seasonal blooms and can flower at any time throughout the year.
Monkey face orchids require cool temperatures and partial shade. They also need attention if grown in captivity.
The scent of the blossomed flowers is said to be like ripe oranges and it is rare to find monkey face orchids grown successfully out of the wild.
2. Monkey Orchid
Botanical Name: Orchis simia or Orchis italica
Another orchid flower that looks like a monkey is orchis simia. Also known as the “naked hanging man”, the monkey orchid shows the bodies of cute little monkeys (or men) hanging from its flowers, which are usually grey, white, pink, purple or reddish.
Orchis simia was first discovered in France in 1779 and can be found from southern England down to northern Africa and as far east as Iran.
It used to be a common orchid, but since 1920 has become harder to find.
The monkey orchid is perennial and flowers from May until June each year. It has two oval tubers, so its name (orchis from the orchidaceae family) means “testicle” in Greek.
Another version of the monkey orchid is the orchis italica, which is a Mediterranean native similar to orchis simia.
3. Fly Orchid
Botanical Name: Ophrys insectifera
The fly orchid looks like something you probably wouldn’t want to pick.
Not only does it look a bit like a fly, but it depends on flies, bees and wasps for pollination, using a scent to attract male insects.
Sometimes the scent reminds the insects of food and other times it reminds them of female insects. As they land on the flower, the male insect attempts to mate with it and then is disappointed by the lack of nectar and procreation, so it loses interest and flies to another flower, unwittingly pollinating it.
10% of fly orchids each year are pollinated by sexual deception.
This method of pollination, along with the fact that each pollinated orchid produces over 10,000 seeds, has resulted in ophrys insectifera becoming a very widespread orchid indeed.
A European native, the fly orchid is common in several locations from Ireland to Spain to Romania and the Ukraine and grows in alkaline soils with full sunlight to partial shade, from sea level to 1700m altitude.
Sadly, it is often bulldozed in developing areas of the UK, but the species is not endangered.
4. Bee Orchid
Botanical Name: Ophrys apifera
Another version of ophrys insectifera is the bee orchid. The apifera in Latin means “bee bearing” and the flowers attract male bees in the same way as the fly orchid, by visually mimicking female bees and also emitting the scent of female bees for pollination.
Bee orchids are common in the Mediterranean region and can also be found in the UK, northern Ireland and Scotland.
There are many hybrids from the ophrys genus, with ophrys bomybliflora specifically attracting bumblebees and ophrys lutea attracting yellow bees, for example. Some types of ophrys are self pollinating and don’t require insect pollination at all.
5. Flying Duck Orchid
Botanical Name: Caleana major
Another flower which uses pseudocopulation is the flying duck orchid, found in eastern and southern Australia (Queensland to South Australia and Tasmania).
Caleana major attracts male sawflies visually and with scent for pollination.
The first specimen was collected at the site of the Sydney Opera House in 1803, but has been difficult to cultivate in captivity due to the root system requiring vegetative fungi found typically in the wild.
When a sawfly lands on the flower, its weight forces the lip (labellum) to spring down and trap it and the only way out is an exit where the insect gets covered in pollen. The sawfly then flies to another orchid and pollinates it.
Plants may flower for 1 to 2 years, then weaken and die. They can grow up to 50cm high and have up to 4 flowers on its stem.
6. White Egret Orchid
Botanical Name: Habenaria radiata
Found in China, Japan, Korea and Russia, the white egret orchid is also known as the fringed orchid, crane orchid or Sagiso and is one of Japan’s most famous orchids. It can have up to 8 flowers on its stalk and each flower is about 4cm wide.
Habenaria radiata is fast becoming endangered in the wild due to habitat destruction and requires some attention to grow in captivity.
However it still grows in the private gardens of orchid collectors, in non urbanised mountain areas at over 500m elevation and in protected Japanese bogs where flower viewing is allowed. Other varieties of habenaria have egret-like flowers as well, including some with variegation and different wingspans.
7. Moth Orchid
Botanical Name: Phalaenopsis
The moth orchid is otherwise known as the bird’s head orchid, because from a distance, multiple flowers look like a group of moths flying and closer up, a bird’s head can be seen.
Found in southeast Asia, the Philippines and northern Australia, the moth orchid has many artificial hybrids that have been cultivated from over 60 species.
Some species of phalaenopsis in Malaysia can bloom at the same time when they experience certain weather conditions.
Phalaenopsis is one of the more popular orchids because there are many to choose from and it can be cultivated at home easily, requiring some repotting, a bright windowsill, fertiliser and consistent moisture.
Mature plants with strong root systems can bloom all year round, while beginning plants can bloom for about 2 months.
8. Dove Orchid
Botanical Name: Peristeria elata
The dove orchid is also known as the Holy Ghost orchid.
It is found from Central America to Ecuador and Venezuela and is the national flower of Panama.
What is strange about this orchid is that its perfume smells like beer.
Peristeria elata usually grows from the ground but in humid mountain forests it has been found growing on tree trunks.
Due to over collection, the dove orchid is on the list of endangered plants, and is almost extinct.
9. Tulip Orchid
Botanical Name: Anguloa uniflora
Also known as the cradle orchid, and boat orchid, the anguloa uniflora flower looks like it has a baby held in a cradle. Each flower is up to 10cm wide and has a fragrant minty or cinnamon perfume.
Hailing from Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru at elevations of 1400m to 2500m, tulip orchids prefer humid conditions and there are more than 9 species of anguloa (some hybrid species are currently evolving).
Anguloa uniflora is tricky to grow at home without a lot of attention. The right temperature, soil components, fertiliser and watering schedule is required.
10. Cockleshell Orchid
Botanical Name: Prosthechea cochleata
The cockleshell orchid, also known as the clamshell orchid, has pseudo bulbs that look like hoods growing from the plant, from which the flower blooms.
It is native to Central America, the West Indies, Colombia, Venezuela and southern Florida and is national flower of Belize, where it is also known as the black orchid.
In Florida, the cockleshell orchid is endangered and many wild plants have developed a self-fertilisation system (using three anthers instead of one).
Prosthechea cochleata is a commonly cultivated household plant and is easy to take care of. It blooms for up to 6 months and each flower can last for weeks. Several hybrids have been produced, including the well-known epi green hornet variety.
Which orchid is your favourite?
Monkey Face Orchid (Dracula Simia)
Questions & Answers
© 2014 Suzanne Day