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.

Dracula simia has a medium-sized monkey face that can blossom with different facial expressions.
Dracula simia has a medium-sized monkey face that can blossom with different facial expressions.
Another example of dracula simia.
Another example of dracula simia.
Dracula gigas is another example of an orchid that looks like a monkey.
Dracula gigas is another example of an orchid that looks like a monkey.

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.

Dracula robledorum.
Dracula robledorum.
Orchis simia. Can you see the hanging monkeys?
Orchis simia. Can you see the hanging monkeys?

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.

Ophrys insectifera - the fly orchid.
Ophrys insectifera - the fly orchid.
Male insects get very excited when they discover the fly orchid.
Male insects get very excited when they discover the fly orchid.

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.

Ophrys apifera - the bee orchid.
Ophrys apifera - the bee orchid.

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.

Caleana major - the flying duck orchid.
Caleana major - the flying duck orchid.

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.

Habenaria radiata - the white egret orchid.
Habenaria radiata - the white egret orchid. | Source

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.

Can you see the bird's head?
Can you see the bird's head? | Source
Moths in flight.
Moths in flight. | Source

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.

Doves on their nests.
Doves on their nests. | Source

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.

Tulip orchids look like they are cradling babies.
Tulip orchids look like they are cradling babies.

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.

Some people think this orchid looks like an octopus.
Some people think this orchid looks like an octopus. | Source

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
  • Monkey Orchid
  • Fly Orchid
  • Bee Orchid
  • Flying Duck Orchid
  • White Egret Orchid
  • Moth Orchid
  • Dove Orchid
  • Tulip Orchid
  • Cockleshell Orchid
See results without voting

Monkey Face Orchid (Dracula Simia)

© 2014 Suzanne Day

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Comments 31 comments

mactavers profile image

mactavers 2 years ago

Very unusual topic, great photos, and well written

BigBlue54 profile image

BigBlue54 2 years ago from Hull, East Yorkshire

Great Hub Suzanne. Love it. :)

AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 2 years ago from California

Very unusual types! I loved the Monkey faces!

FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

I love your creative flair. This topic is most unusual, and you have done a fine, fine job as always. Voting up +++, pinning, and shared.

Purpose Embraced profile image

Purpose Embraced 2 years ago from Jamaica

This is a beautiful, informative, and interesting hub! I love all the pictures of the orchids. But the tulip orchids - the ones that look like they are cradling babies, I love the best.

grand old lady profile image

grand old lady 2 years ago from Philippines

Very interesting hub. I plan to share this on my sister's FB page, as she loves gardening, and I think she will get a kick out of this.

Cherylann Mollan profile image

Cherylann Mollan 2 years ago from India

This hub is phenomenal! I had not the slightest idea that the Orchid had so many interesting variations. I was very fascinated by the Fly Orchid, they give us one of the best lessons in the art of deception! Great hub. Voted up. :)

Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

I love orchids, and these are all wonderful. Great hub, wonderful pictures.

suraj punjabi profile image

suraj punjabi 2 years ago from jakarta

Wow, great stuff. I reckon, rather than going through the hassle of owning a pet monkey (let alone a monkey who is hitting puberty) its much better to own these lovely orchids in our backyards. Great hub keep up the good work. God bless You.

randomcreative profile image

randomcreative 2 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Fascinating! I had no idea. I love all of the visual examples.

LD 2 years ago

I enjoy looking at orchids but have not found all of those unusual ones. Thanks for the article.

precy anza profile image

precy anza 2 years ago from San Diego

Wow! Haven't seen most of these. I really enjoyed looking at all the photos. Thanks for hubbing about these beauties. Up and Fb shared as I want my fb friends to see this too. :)

K Ocasio 2 years ago

This is so interesting! I literally showed this to everyone. All in all a good article.

carrie Lee Night profile image

carrie Lee Night 2 years ago from Northeast United States

Very unique hub. Unbelievable resemblances :). Thank you for taking the time to hand pick a great subject. Have a wonderful week.

Suzanne Day profile image

Suzanne Day 2 years ago from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia Author

Hi everyone, thank you for your kind comments! Yes, they are certainly very rare and unusual orchids and it's hard to collect them or to view them outside of their natural habitat without cultivating hybrids.

jtrader profile image

jtrader 2 years ago

These are all quite interesting creations. Thanks for sharing their beauty with us.

dragonflycolor 2 years ago

I have fuchsia colored orchids in my home right now and they do resemble something weird. Thanks!

Susan52 profile image

Susan52 2 years ago

I can't pick a favorite - all those orchids are really pretty! Awesome compilation. I enjoyed it!

joedolphin88 profile image

joedolphin88 2 years ago from north miami FL

How unbelievable is nature, that is really quite a flower, I saw that monkey face immediately.

sallybea profile image

sallybea 2 years ago from Norfolk

Suzanne Day

Some stunning orchids along with some fascinating facts about them. I recently came across the Bee Orchid which I think is a real little beauty. It was being carefully protected and nurtured in one of our local RSVP Nature reserves. Thanks for sharing this very interesting hub.

Best wishes,


TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

TIMETRAVELER2 2 years ago

Who knew!!! I guess we learn something new every day. Fun post!

ChristinS profile image

ChristinS 2 years ago from Midwest

These orchids are stunning! What an interesting hub. I love the bee orchid especially, it really does look like a bee is dangling from the petal. wow. The botanical gardens in my area have a huge Orchid festival I think yearly. I've never checked it out before, but I might. I never realized just how many different varieties there are.

LisaKeating 2 years ago

I just bought my second common orchid. They are so beautiful. With my first one, all the flower petals fell off in the course of two days for no apparent reason. I've been reading a lot about how to care for them. We'll see.

OhMe profile image

OhMe 2 years ago from Pendleton, SC

We have a few orchids but nothing like these. I sure enjoyed seeing the pictures and reading about these animal looking orchids

Shades-of-truth profile image

Shades-of-truth 24 months ago from USA

My husband grows some of these orchids, and I am particularly enthralled by the bizarre ones. Here, though, I liked the Tulip Orchid the most!

poetryman6969 profile image

poetryman6969 20 months ago

It seems impossible sometimes that these fantastical plants exist. But the flowers are beautiful.

Joy56 profile image

Joy56 20 months ago

Wow love your insight...... Love the monkey orchids..... No words.....

pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 18 months ago from sunny Florida

Wow what a treat this is. I love love flowers of all kinds and have always been in awe of orchids but have never owned one.

These are simply breathtaking specimens you have shared. How clever Mother Nature is to adorn these flowers so skillfully.

thanks for the information and the photos.

Angels are on the way to you this morning

Voted up++++ shared and pinned to Awesome HubPages. ps

MarleneB profile image

MarleneB 16 months ago from Northern California, USA

This is an wild array of different-looking orchids. I am particularly intrigued by the Dove Orchid because its looks are deceiving. It looks so beautiful, but it smells like beer! That's wild to me. I really enjoyed reading about all of these fabulous flowers.

connie Rodriguez 13 months ago

Can these be orderd,they are beautiful

Kristen Howe profile image

Kristen Howe 13 months ago from Northeast Ohio

Beautiful orchids--all of them. So lovely to see them in color photos with vivid descriptions.

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