by Eileen Watson


About Draculas your name My Favourite Draculas
Culture Notes Current Projects
National Collection How to reach me

About Draculas

Draculas are orchids. The genus Dracula belongs to the subtribe Pleurothallidinae, of the family Orchidaceae. The genus was created in 1978 by Dr Carlyl Luer by extracting certain species with hairy flowers and curious lips from the genus Masdevallia, thus draculas are similar to the more commonly grown masdevallias, but differ in certain aspects of leaf structure, and in the flowers. The first draculas were found by plant hunters in the 1870s, and they are still being discovered mainly in the cloud forests of Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. There are now over 100 recognised species. The genus was named Dracula after the ‘little dragon’ appearance of the flowers, and their love of shady and humid forests.

The most prominent parts of the Dracula flower are the three sepals. These may be fused at the base, and taper into long tails at the extremities. I have one species, a Dracula wallisii, which has sepaline tails measuring up to 30 cm (12 inches)! The sepals are often covered in dense hairs or warts. Two very small petals flank the tiny column, and they have nodules at the top which are often very dark in colour and give the impression of the little dragon’s eyes. The lip has two sections of varying size, the hypochile at the centre of the flower, and the outer part of the lip, the epichile. The lip is often deeply furrowed (like a mushroom) and the epichile may be large and curled, either upwards like a ladle, or round in a semicircle. In some species, the lip is mobile, being fitted with a little hinge near the column.

Colours range from white through shades of yellow, pink, blood red to dark maroon – almost black. Usually combinations of several of these colours are present as shading, fine or large spots, or lines. In all, the genus contains some fascinating flowers which well repay the effort involved in growing them.




back to top of page

My Favourite Draculas

My favourite Dracula is my Dracula bella ‘William’. This was my first Dracula and has gained two Certificates of Cultural Commendation from the RHS Orchid Committee. It is named ‘William’ after my late father who gave me much encouragement.

Dracula bella (Rchb.f.) Luer, 1978 was named after the Latin for ‘beautiful’. It grows in the cloud forests of the Western Cordillera of Colombia at 5000 to 7000 feet. It was first discovered by Gustav Wallis in 1873-4 whilst he was collecting for the Veitch Royal Exotic Nursery of Chelsea, England but he ‘failed to send home living plants’. It was introduced 4 years later by Messrs Low and Co. of Clapton, England. Veitch remarks that it is a curious and remarkable species. The flower size is about 7.5cm (3 inches) ‘high’ by 6.5cm (2 ½ inches) ‘wide’, but reflexed backwards, with the sepaline tails measuring 10cm (4 inches). The colour is blood-red diffuse spots on a cream background. The lip is large, white, deeply furrowed and is curled into a semicircle. It hangs freely in the centre of the flower. The flowers are produced singly from the pedicel which emerges usually through the bottom of the basket.


Dracula bella 'William' CCC/RHS

Dracula olmosii

Dracula janetiae

Dracula deltoidea

Dracula cochliops

Dracula vampira

Dracula andreettae

Dracula cordobae




back to top of page

Culture Notes

Most of my draculas are grown in plastic covered wire mesh (1/2 inch square) baskets which I make myself. I wrap the Dracula plant in living Sphagnum moss, put it in the basket and surround it with medium-grade fir bark which has been soaked and rinsed with rain water. The openwork baskets drain well, and the bark does not become waterlogged but is kept wet and the moss (and the Dracula) grows well.

The plants are sprayed automatically with rain water, usually for one minute every morning, by means of overhead misters connected to a pump. If the outside temperature during the night has been low, the heaters have been working overtime and the bark is drying out, then this misting is certainly necessary. In warm, wet weather however, the misters may be switched off. The leaves should be relatively dry by nightfall. Only minimal quantities (100μS) of a general fertiliser are applied twice a week by hand spraying.

Humidity in the greenhouse is maintained at around 90% by the constant use of an ultrasonic humidifier. Spraying the floor with water is not sufficient. High humidity is most important to maintain the turgidity of the flowers. Moving the plant into a dry atmosphere will result in the flowers drooping, within minutes for some species! Small fans keep the air moving continually. The temperature is maintained at 13ºC (55ºF) at night rising to at least 16ºC (60ºF) during the day, but never above 26ºC (80ºF) otherwise the roots and tiny buds desiccate and die. The greenhouse is heavily shaded using bamboo blinds with additional shading in summer provided by a large oak tree. This extra shading helps to keep the temperature down in hot weather.

Using these conditions, the draculas grow well. There is sometimes a slight problem with spots on the leaves, but care must be exercised with the use of fungicides (or insecticides) as the plants are quite sensitive to these chemicals. I use a dilute solution of Physan to clean leaves.




back to top of page

Current Projects

I keep detailed records of all my plants. I make a note of where the plant came from, and when I acquired it. To aid in its identification, each plant is given an accession number incorporating a colour code which indicates to me immediately how long I have owned the plant.

When the plant flowers, I carefully measure and describe the flower for my records. Often the flower does not conform to the expected description, the plant having been wrongly labelled at some point, then some detective work is required to establish its correct name. I use Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Colour Charts to record the colours in the flower. I also photograph each flower from different angles. I am building up an Herbarium collection, separating and pressing the parts of the flower i.e. sepals, petals, column, lip and a cross section of the ovary. A future project is to make drawings of the flower parts.




back to top of page

National Collection

My collection of Draculas is registered with the National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens (NCCPG) as a National Collection®. The NCCPG was set up 23 years ago ‘to conserve, document, promote and make available Britain's great biodiversity of garden plants for the benefit of horticulture, education and science. Each collection is required to be as fully representative of the specific genus or section held as is feasible and must comply with stringent conditions, including good horticultural practice, thorough record keeping, on-going research and development’.

The 2001 NCCPG Directory lists over 600 National Collections of garden plants (see www.nccpg.org.uk) but at the moment there are only 15 Holders of National Collections of Orchids. In 1999, I was fortunate enough to have my collection of Dracula recognised as a National Collection. I have upwards of 90 species, together with clones, cultivars and primary hybrids, and am always alert to the possibility of adding to the collection.




back to top of page

How to reach me





back to top of page