Marin Master Gardeners
University of California
Marin Master Gardeners

Marin IJ Articles

Dracula orchids an exotic addition to gardens

October 15, 2016
Jane Scurich

Looking to expand your orchid collection? How about a Dracula?

At a fascinating presentation on Dracula orchids I discovered that the reason Gary Meyer, vice-president of the Pleurothallid Alliance, an affiliated specialty group of the American Orchid Society, lives in San Francisco’s Richmond District is because it’s ideal for growing Draculas. Fog, moderate temperatures — immediately I started thinking about the possibilities of growing these inimitable orchids in parts of Marin.

Draculas are native to Central America, Columbia, Ecuador, Mexico and Peru. Ideal cultural conditions exist at higher elevations of these regions. They rely on high humidity, which makes the foggy west side of San Francisco ideal. They cannot tolerate a freeze or extended periods of hot dry weather.

Draculas are epiphytic and thrive clinging to mossy branches of trees in cloud forests. The majority of their blooms extend downward or horizontally from the plant. They can be planted in well-ventilated plastic pots or baskets that allow the flower spikes to hang below the plant or mounted on bark. Sphagnum moss or a combination of tree fern bark and chopped sphagnum or perlite is an ideal potting medium to help retain moisture and simulate their native environment. Draculas have no pseudobulbs and minimal water storage tissue.

More than 100 species have been identified since they were discovered in the 1880s. They were classified in the genus Masdevallia until 1978 when they received their own genus classification.

Meyer has spent years traveling to isolated areas where Draculas grow in the wild, and is actively involved in efforts to conserve the areas where these plants thrive. Challenges for Dracula orchid survival in their native environment include loss of habitat, overly ambitious collectors and climate change.

For years I have been fascinated by the adorable “faces” these tiny orchids exhibit. Many of you may have seen online photos of blooms that look like monkeys, bats or lambs, and questioned if they were real or digitally enhanced. You need to see these tiny treasures in person to appreciate their uniqueness. The name “Dracula” literally means “little dragon” for the flower’s resemblance to mythical beasts and is not a reference to the infamous Count Dracula.

Where to find these exotic plants? A few calls to local nurseries uncovered no availability. Meyer mentioned the Pacific Orchid and Garden Exposition (POE) as where he purchased his first Dracula in the Bay Area. Look on its website for upcoming events at orchidsanfrancisco.org.

Local orchid society meetings are populated with passionate orchid growers who truly want to share their love and expertise with attendees. These welcoming venues offer advice and member-grown plant sales to expand your orchid knowledge and collection.

• Marin Orchid Society: marinorchidsociety.com

• San Francisco Orchid Society: orchidsanfrancisco.org

• Pleurothallid Alliance: pleurothallids.com

Some Bay Area nurseries that routinely stock Dracula orchids include:

• Hawk Hill Orchids: hawkhillorchids.com

• Columbian Orchid Imports: colombianorchidimports.com

• Hanging Gardens: hanginggardens.org

Looking to see Draculas in bloom? The Conservatory of Flowers has one of only two cloud forest galleries in the U.S., and conserves an extensive and growing collection of these high-elevation orchids.

Can we grow these darlings in Marin? They need shade, high humidity, no extreme temperatures, and minimal fertilizer. While their success will require a commitment to regular moisture and protection from freezes, I believe that for many of us, these can be exciting new additions to our outdoor orchid collections.

Top of page

Webmaster Email: banielsen@ucanr.edu