What is Masdevallia?

Alex Tree
Alex Tree
Woman with a flower
Woman with a flower

Masdevallia, known in horticulture as simply masd, is a large genus of flowering plants belonging to a subtribe of the orchid family. The genus is named after Jose Masdeval, a botanist and physician in the court of Charles III of Spain. Some popular species belonging in the genus are M. davisii, also known as the orchid of the sun; M. ionocharis, or the graceful violet-blue Masdevallia; and M. veitchiana, or the king of the Masdevallias.

There are about 500 species of masd, which are further classified into various subgenera, sections, and subsections. This is because species belonging to the genus tend to be quite varied, especially in terms of physical appearance. Some of the popular subgenera of masd include the subgenus amanda, which covers more than 28 species; the subgenus cucullatia, which has four species; and the subgenus fissia, which has three species.

The genus grows naturally in tropical habitats. Present in most parts of South America, Masdevallia are usually found in high altitude regions, about 8,200 to 13,000 ft (2,500 to 4,000 m) above sea level. High concentration of species belonging to the genus can be found in the Andes Mountains covering Ecuador, Columbia, and Peru, among other South American countries. Species of masd may be epiphytes, which are plants that grow on other plants, or lithophytes, which are plants that grow on damp rocks, while other species are considered terrestrials.

Most species of Masdevallia bloom during the summer. These types of plants often grow from a rhizome into pseudobulbs — a bulblike enlargement of the stem of an orchid. Very often there appear tufts of hair at the tip of the pseudobulbs from where a fleshy leaf grows. The leaves of most species belonging in this genus are usually smooth and of the color green. They are often shaped like an egg or pointed like a lance.

The flowers of most species of Masdevallia are triangular and are about 2.36 in (6 cm) wide, growing on short stems. Each of the stems usually has only one flower, but in some species such as in M. polysticta there can be several. Some species have small, tongue-shaped, or shell-shaped petals often hidden inside the flower. The sepals, which often stretch to a long tail, usually have three layers bound together along the edges. Sepals of many species belonging to the masd genus almost always have vivid and bright colors that overwhelm the colors of the flowers themselves.

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