Masdevallias come from South America. Although rarely seen 10 years ago, they are one of the success stories for orchids. Most growers will have one of these gems in their collection and some growers now breed them almost exclusively. They are different from most people’s concept of orchids because they don’t need heat. In fact they hate it. Most come from the upper Andes, in the cloud forests, where it is cool to cold with moderately high humidity. Some of the best species seen in Australia were grown on a back fence in Hobart. They have an extended flowering period. The early flowering varieties are appearing now and plants will bloom as late as November.
The flowers themselves look a little different with large segments but often only a very small lip, the most striking feature on other orchids. These segments taper to tails of varying lengths. What colour are they? Pick a colour, any colour. This is probably why they have risen so rapidly in popularity. You can have pearlescent white, bright orange, iridescent red, purple or chocolate. Many hybrids have two colours on the flower segments such as white tipped with yellow, purple or red. The flowers vary in size from a centimetre to greater than 10 centimetres on relatively small plants. There are plain colours, stripes, spots and any combination of the above.
They do require somewhat different treatment to other orchids. They should not be allowed to dry out but still need a medium that allows the roots to breathe. Sphagnum mixed with perlite/polystyrene or a mix of small bark and perlite/polystyrene works well. For the more advanced, double potting hanging plants gives the combination of humidity and air movement they experience in the wild. In our summer they need to be kept cool and humid such as on a low bench over ferns. Regular weak fertiliser stimulates growth which occurs mainly in the colder months of the year. They are now readily available through specialist orchid nurseries and at orchid shows.
The Eastern Suburbs Orchid Society has an orchid show on the third Monday of every month at 8pm, St Luke’s Church Hall, Varna Street, Clovelly. Visitors are always welcome.