Pronouced: [Mas – de – vahl – ee – ah]
These plants with their unusual flowers come from from tropical South America and grow from warm lowlands regions to cooler high elevations in the cloud forests. Plants can be epiphytes, lithophytes or terrestrial. They lack pseudobulbs, growing from a root system. They generally have upright stems at varying heights, each with a single bloom, though there are species that have multiple blooms on shorter stems. Their leaves are green, stiff and fleshy. The blooms come in a rainbow of colours from white to very deep burgundy.
HOW TO GROW MASDEVALLIAS
CONDITIONS: Masdevallias are very frost and heat sensitive and the majority are cool growing. Their preferred temperature range is 8C overnight mid winter to 25C midday mid summer. They will tolerate down to 4C if kept dryish over winter and will cope with higher temperatures if you keep the humidity up. A growing house with a laserlite roof or similar with 70% shadecloth sides for summer will help to protect your plants from strong drying winds.
POTTING MIX: Use plastic pots that are small enough to contain the roots. Do not overpot. A small grade pinebark with coarse washed river sand, perlite or granulated isolite makes an ideal potting mix for Masdevallias. You could also pot then in just Sphagnum Moss with great success. The moss keeps moist when we have those hot summer days and they don’t suffer from as much heat stress.
PROPAGATION: Divisions of your plants should be done after flowering when there are new growths with new root systems well away. Ensure that the potting mix covers all the roots but don’t bury the leaf stems in the mix or they may rot.
WATERING: Watering is critical for these plants as they have minimal water-storage tissue. If the drainage of the potting mix is adequate, then constant moist roots are fine, otherwise allow the mix to dry out a bit before watering again. You have to work that one out yourself.
FERTILIZING: Using a half strength soluble high nitrogen fertilizer fortnightly during Spring through to the end of Summer when the plants are actively growing in a bark based potting mix. Use a lower nitrogen fertilizer, half strength, fortnightly for those growing in moss. If the weather is overcast, apply fertilizer once a month.
FLOWERING: If you have a number of Masdevallias, you can have them flowering all year round. Some will flower more than once a year, others, like coccinea will flower only the once around December. Enmasse, you can have a spectacular show of colour.
PROBLEMS: There are few problems with Masdevallias. The usual slugs, snails and caterpillars think they are a sumptious meal while the aphids will abound as the buds are appearing and attack open flowers. The usual remedies of baits and sprays will fix things. Heat stress is always a fear so be ready to keep the humidity up. And remember to protect from frost. They don’t have the usual orchid type pseudobulbs as storage to fall back on in times of stress.