Abstract In perennial plants, life-history theory suggests that natural selection should result in the optimization of fruit-to-flower ratios within the limits imposed by the trade-offs between resource allocation for present reproduction and future growth and reproduction. The tropical orchid Dendrobium monophyllum F. Muell., an epiphyte or lithophyte, offers no nectar rewards, is self-incompatible and has a capsule-to-flower ratio of about 1:14. The influence of pollination limitation and the costs of capsule production on capsule-to-flower ratios were assessed using experimental and field studies in which individual plants were observed for 3 years. Pollinators visited about 80% of flowers, and capsule production was significantly related to inflorescence size and pollinaria removal. About nine pollinator visits occurred per capsule. Pollinator visitation and capsule production did not vary significantly between years. The inflorescence size classes most successful in capsule production were also the most frequent in natural populations. The experimental supplementation of outcross pollen to flowers increased capsule set over controls by 45% within a year, but was limited to about 53%. A capsule-to-flower ratio of 1:2 in experimental plants significantly decreased the subsequent growth and flowering of individuals relative to controls. A capsule-to-flower ratio above 1:10 in naturally pollinated plants decreased flowering in the subsequent year. Thus, it is suggested than an increase in capsule production above 10% would not necessarily correlate with greater reproductive fitness because of the increased cost of capsule production. The capsule-to-flower ratio recorded in this study could be evolutionarily stable because of trade-offs between selection for pollinator attraction and the cost of capsule production. The production of surplus flowers appears to function in pollinator attraction and increases fitness through male function.