Masdevallia is one of the largest, showiest and most collectible genera in the subtribe Pleurothallidinae. Most of the species are miniature plants that bear large flowers relative to the size of the plants that produce them.
These plants are found from Mexico to southern Brazil. The greatest diversity of species are found along the Colombian and Peruvian Andes between 2,500 - 4,000 m where they grow epiphytically, terrestrially, or lithophytically.
Masdevallia plants typically have a very short rhizome giving them a tufted appearance -- two species that do not are Masdevallia racemosa and Masdevallia paivaëana. Like all other pleurothallids, they have a jointed ovary that is deciduous from the pedicle and no pseudobulbs. The ramicaul is envoloped by three to four papery bracts. The leaves are smooth and most often paddle shaped, sometimes they may be narrow giving them a grass-like appearance. The leaves are usually narrowed toward their base creating the appearance of a petiole. One unusuall species, Masdevallia caesia, has fleshy straped shaped leaves that hang pendently.
The flowers are borne a sheath-like bract near the joint connecting the leaf to the ramicaul, the small bract the flowers are borne from is covered by a larger bract covering the entire ramicaul. The infloresence is usually carried by a long peduncle and is borne from a floral bract. From the floral bract arises a pedicle that is jointed to the ovary. The ovaries may be smoth, textured, or crested. The inflorescence is typically single flowered but in some species multiple flowers occur forming a raceme. If a raceme is present the flowers may all open simultaneously, like Masdevallia amanda, or they may open in a succession, like Masdevallia don-quijote. The flower is made of three sepals and three petals. The sepals are often fused together giving many flowers a triangular appearance or may fuse along the entire length of the sepals forming a tube. Masdevallias in the group Luer defines as subgenus Fissia have free seapls that are not fused. One of the petals is modified into a labellum, also called a lip. The lip is of divided into two portions called an epichile and a hypochile by structural folding of the lip. The lip is attached by a strap-like structure to the column foot. The strap attaching the lip to the column foot may be very delicate forming a hinge and which makes the lip bend backwards against the column if something heavy like a fly lands on it. If the right pollinator comes it is swung against the column and delivers or recieves pollinia. One species, Masdevallia teaguei, has a lip that moves like a venus fly-trap to actively force pollinators against the column. The petals and lip are highly reduced compared to other groups of orchids. The petals are often narrow and held close to the column.
Masdevallias can be grown in a moist mix of fine bark or sphagnum moss or mounted on wooden plaques or sticks. In general the medium should not be allowed to dry out. Water quality is very important. Masdevallias are especially sensitive to salts. Species that occur from 3,000 meters and above should be grown cool to cold. Species from between 1,000 meters and 1,500 meters can be grown under intermediate temperatures. Very few species of Masdevallia grow well under warm temperatures. They all benefit from good air circulation. Most flower and do well under shady conditions.
Masdevallia was recently divided into eighteen new genera. All but three of the names were coined by Luer. Recent genetic analyses by Pridgeon, Solano, & Chase and Matuszkiewicz & Tukallo have found the genus Masdevallia to be a monophyletic group and many of the new genera proposed by Luer contain species intermixed within the minor lines of the two major clades of Masdevallia. The two major clades making Masdevallia are composed of the typical masdevallias -- things related to M. uniflora -- and species related to the multifloral masdevallias -- things like Masdevallia amanda. The second major line is made up of the masdevallias related to Masdevallia coriacea -- the ones that usually smell bad -- and the ones that have an inflorescence that blooms successively on a triqueterous peduncle like Masdevallia don-quijote. The only new genera separated from Masdevallia that are supported morphologically and by DNA are Diodonopsis Pridgeon & M.W.Chase 2001 and Luerella Braas 1979. Diodonopsis contains three members that used to belong to the section Pygmaeia-- Masdevallia erinacea, M. pygmaea, and M. anachaeta. The genus Luerella, which contained Masdevallia pelicaniceps, is supported by recent genetic analysis as being distinct from Masdevallia. M. pelicaniceps is on a branch with Pleurothallis pepermoides and Ophiodon pleurothallopsis which make up a branch sister to the major clade containing Masdevallia, Dracula, Trisetella, Diodonopsis, and Porroglossum.
Luer is the current taxonomic authority on the genus Masdevallia and brought much order to the group using a morphology based approach to organize subgroups within the genus. Luer's 2000 - 2005 five part monograph on the genus is the most widely accepted classification scheme.
Luer recognizes eleven subgenera:
- Section Amandae : ~28 species, e.g. M. amanda, M. bulbophyllopsis, M. melanopus, M. polysticta
- Section Ophioglossae : Monotypic M. ophioglossa
Subgenus Cucullatia : 7 species: M. cerastes, M. corniculata, "M. macrura
Subgenus Fissia : 3 species: M. mutica, M. picturata, M. pleurothalloides
- Section Amaluzae : 6 species: e.g. M. amaluzae, M. carmenensis, M. patula
- Section Aphanes : 3 species: M. aphanes, M. capillaris, M. scopaea
- Section Caudivolvulae : Monotypic: M. caudivolvula
- Section Coriaceae :
- Subsection Coriaceae : ~40 species, e.g. M. angulata, M. caesia, M. civilis, M. foetens, M. fractiflexa
- Section Durae : 10 species e.g. M. ayabacana, M. dura, M. panguiensis, M. utriculata
- Section Ligiae : Monotypic: M. ligiae
- Section Masdevallia :
- Subsection Caudatae : ~30 species, e.g. M. decumana, M. triangularis, M. xanthina
- Subsection Coccineae : 12 species, e.g. M. amabilis, M. coccinea, M. veitchiana
- Subsection Masdevallia : ~60 species, e.g. M. agaster, M. mejiana, M. uniflora
- Subsection Oscillantes : 12 species, e.g. M. andreettana, M. pteroglossa, M. wagneriana
- Subsection Saltatrices : 14 species, e.g. M. angulifera, M. limax, M. urosalpinx
- Subsection Tubulosae : 7 species, e.g. M. bangii, M. irapana, M. tubulosa
- Section Mentosae : Monotypic: M. mentosa
- Section Minutae : ~20 species, e.g. M. floribunda, M. herradurae, M. wendlandiana
- Section Racemosae : Monotypic: M. racemosa
- Section Reichenbachianae :
- Subsection Dentatae : 7 species, e.g. M. collina, M. macrogenia, M. zapatae
- Subsection Reichenbachianae : ~11 species, e.g. M. rolfeana, M. schroderiana, M. striatella
Subgenus Meleagris : 7 species, e.g. M. anisomorpha, M. heteroptera, M. meleagris
Subgenus Nidifica : 5 species: e.g. M. dynastes, M. nidifica, M. ventricosa
Subgenus Polyantha : ~100 species
- section Alaticaules : ~90 M. bicolor, M. infracta, M. scobina, M. stenorrhynchos, M. tovarensis
- section Polyanthae : ~10 species, e.g. M. discoidea, M. lata, M. polyantha, M. schlimii
Subgenus Pygmaeia : 5 species: e.g. M. anachaeta, M. erinacea, M. pygmaea
Subgenus Scabripes: M. bicornis monotypic
Subgenus Teagueia : M. teaguei monotypic
Subgenus Volvula : M. caudivolvula monotypic
The genus is named for Jose Masdeval, a physician and botanist in the court of Charles III of Spain.
- Acinopetala Luer 2006
- Alaticaulia Luer 2006
- Buccella Luer 2006
- Byrsella Luer 2006
- Fissia Luer 2006
- Luzama Luer 2006
- Megema Luer 2006
- Petalodon Luer 2006
- Pteroon Luer 2006
- Regalia Luer 2006
- Reichantha Luer 2006
- Rodrigoa Braas 1979
- Spectaculum Luer 2006
- Spilotantha Luer 2006
- Streptoura Schltr. ex Luer 2006
- Triotosiphon Luer 2006
- Zahleria Luer 2006
- Masdevallia × alvaroi (Colombia). (M amanda × M picturata)
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- Alec M Pridgeon, Rodlofo Solano, Mark W Chase. "Phylogenetic Relationships in Pleurothallidinae (Orchidaceae): COmbined Evidence from Nuclear and Plastid DNA Sequences." American Journal of Botany 88(2001): 2286-2308.
- Aleksandra Matuszkiewicz & Piotr Tukallo. "Infrageneric Reclassification and Phylogenetic Inference in the Genus Masdevallia Ruiz & Pav. (Orchidaceae, Pleurothallidinae) - preliminary results of nrDNA based analysis." Biodiv. Res. Conserv. 3-4(2006): 213-219.
- Carlyle A. Luer: Icones Pleurothallidinarum, Systematics of Masdevallia, Complete Set; Missouri Botanical Garden Press (1984-2003)
- New species from: Orchid Research Newsletter 47 (January 2006); Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew
- Mary E. Gerritsen and Ron Parsons: Masdevallias, Gems of the Orchid World. Timber Press. 2005
- Masdevallia Orchids