Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Masdevallia Orchids

A selection of Masdevallia orchids on the Ochid Society of Great Britains Stand at the 2012 RHS Chelsea Flower show. Starting at the bottom left and moving clockwise are Masdevallia 'Copper Wing', Masdevallia 'Hoosier Angel', Masdevallia 'Falcons Gold' and finally Masdevallia 'Fancy Pants'

Masdevallia, is a large genus of flowering plants of the Pleurothallidinae, part of the orchid family (Orchidaceae). There are well over five hundred different, which are grouped into several subgenera. The genus itself named after Jose Masdeval, who was a physician and botanist in the court of Charles III of Spain.

The native habitat of  Masdevallia is from Mexico down to southern Brazil, with the majority found in the higher regions (2,500-4,000m above sea level) of the Andes in Ecuador and also in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. They can grow as epiphytes, terrestrials or growing as lithophytes on damp rocks.

The plants are characterized by an abbreviated to elongated and creeping rhizome that gives rise to stems that lack pseudobulbs. The stem bears a single, fleshy, ovate to lanceolate leaf. The flowers are triangular and occur singly or in racemose inflorescences. They are characterized by a showy calyx and reduced corolla. The sepals are fused at the base and frequently caudate. The petals flank the semiterete column and the tongue-shaped lip is flexibly hinged to a free column foot.

The species are sensitive to inappropriate cultural conditions and will show signs of stress by leaf spotting or dropping. They can usually be grown in pots with sphagnum moss or seedling grade wood chips although a few species produce descending inflorescences and are best grown in orchid baskets. In both cases the rhizome should remain at the surface of the medium in order to prevent rot.

Most of these plants are from high altitude cloud forests and require very cool conditions and abundant moisture throughout the year. They cannot tolerate dryness, low humidity, or excessive temperatures. They will simply drop all of their leaves and suddenly collapse if allowed to dry completely or are exposed to high temperatures. Many members of this genus from very high altitude cloud forests are not available in cultivation. Most of the species from this genus are considered less difficult in cultivation than plants from the genus Dracula, and some of them are very easy to cultivate and have a weedy habit such as Veitch's Masdevallia, but the majority of these species are usually very difficult to maintain in cultivation unless the plants can be kept cool and moist all the time.

Low humidity conditions or watering the plants with a water source which contains high levels of dissolved salts will result in the leaves yellowing and rapidly dying from the tips back to the rhizome. Masdevallia should be provided with rain water, distilled water or a very pure water source. The medium should always remain moist as the plants do not have any significant storage structures like most orchids.

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