Commonly referred to as kite orchids, the Masdevallia genus boasts an impressive array of approximately 700 distinct and varied species! The common name for this genus stems from the elongated, tail-like tubular or triangular sepals of the flowers, reminiscent of the graceful tails of kites. Masdevallia flowers exhibit a wide spectrum of colors, spanning from vibrant hues like red, orange, pink and yellow, to more subdued tones like white and brown.
Named Veitch’s Masdevallia or King of Masdevallias, Masdevallia veitchiana (pronounced “veech-e-anna") holds the title of being Peru’s national treasure. It is rumoured to have been cultivated by the Incas centuries ago and is referred to as Waqanki in Quechua (the main language of the Incan Empire), a term translating to “you will cry”. The name comes from a Quechuan tale involving an Incan princess whose forbidden love for a common soldier led to his demise due to her father’s disapproval. The Waqanki orchid is said to bloom wherever the tears of the grieving princess fall, hence its unusual name!
Only found in the wild in Peru, within the vicinity of Machu Picchu, M. veitchiana is a terrestrial or lithophytic orchid growing at high altitudes of 2000m to 4000m. Adapted to the steep, rocky, grassy slopes of the Peruvian Andes, they are an intermediate to cool-growing orchid, preferring daytime temperatures of 18-24°C and slightly cooler nighttime temperatures.
Its singular flowers can grow to a remarkable size of up to 20cm in height, displaying bright orange sepals with purple hairs on the sides, producing an enchanting iridescent effect. The vivid reddish-orange flower colour initially led researchers to theorize that they may be pollinated by hummingbirds, probing the flower in search of a nectar reward that is not offered by this species. However, more recent observations of various flies attracted to the flowers suggest that their pollinators may be flies or other insects.
Visit the Orchids of the Machu Picchu display at the Orchid Haven in Cloud Forest and be enchanted by the other interesting orchids you can find in the orchidarium!
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!