Known as the kite orchids, there are about 700 unique and diverse species in the genus Masdevallia! The common name of the genus comes from the flowers’ long-tailed tubular or triangular sepals which resemble the tails of a kite. The Masdevallia genus honors Dr. Don José de Masdevall, an 18th century Spanish botanist and physician.
Masdevallias come in various colors, ranging from flamboyant colors such as red, orange, pink and yellow, to dull colors like white and brown. Some Masdevallias have a musky scent and others emit a scent which is similar to rotting meat, attracting flies to pollinate them. Thus, the main pollinators of this genus are flies. However, colors are not only the determinant for the type of pollinators, as the shape of the flower probably plays a part as well. Masdevallias with a long, tubular shape are likely pollinated by hummingbirds or moths, both of which have long beaks or mouthparts to reach far inside the flowers.
Found in the wet montane forests of Ecuador, Masdevallia pachyura is a warm to cool growing species that grows from altitudes of 1000m - 3000m. The epithet for this species is Greek for ‘thick tail’, which describes the short sepal tails of this species. Unlike the typical orchid morphology you see, with distinct sepals, petals, and lip or labellum, Masdevallias have fused sepals which subsequently form into a tubular, tail-like shape. In contrast with its showy sepals, its labellum and petals are very indistinctive and are difficult to find unless you look at the flower closely. Like many members of its genus, Masdevallia pachyura has been observed to be pollinated by flies.
Come and check out this uncommon orchid at Orchid Haven in Cloud Forest, and the other orchid species and cultivars on display there!
Written by: Ng Yu Qin, Horticulturist, Research and Horticulture
Yu Qin is always looking for ways to pick up new skills and put them to use. She spends most of her time with orchids and enjoys learning something new about them every day!