Masdevallia Orchid

Masdevallia Orchid

  • Scientific name: Orchidaceae Masdevallia
  • Common name:  Orchid kite
  • Origin:  Mexico, Peru and southern Brazil
  • Type of orchid : Epiphytic, lithophyte or terrestrial
  • Flowering:  Summer
  • Location:  Low lighting, no direct sun
  • Watering:  Once or twice a week, letting the substrate dry between waterings
  • Humidity:  High 60% -80%
  • Level of difficulty:  Low
masdevallia orchid

Masdevallia orchids, also known as Comet orchids, are some of the lower orchid species. Often some of their varieties do not even look like typical orchids, since  the petals of their flowers are so small that they seem to have only three leaves. 
One of the most common characteristics of the flowers of the Masdevallia orchids (not all of them), is that the tips of the leaves of their flowers lengthen in a kind of very long thread. 
Although in origin they are easy to grow orchids, in our latitudes we usually receive Masdevilla hybrids, which do not tolerate hot and dry summers well.

The Masdevallia rolfeana, is regarded as the true black orchid.

Table Of Contents

  • 1 Characteristics of Masdevallia orchids
  • 2 Care of the Masdevallia orchid
    • 2.1 Location
    • 2.2 Irrigation
    • 2.3 Temperature
    • 2.4 Environmental humidity and ventilation
    • 2.5 Nutrients and Fertilizer
    • 2.6 Substrate, change of pot
    • 2.7 Flowering of the orchid Masdevallia
  • 3 Varieties of orchids Masdevallia
    • 3.1 Masdevallia Rolfeana. The Black Orchid

Characteristics of Masdevallia orchids

The Masdevallia are epiphytic orchids, terrestrial or lithophyte, which are named after their discoverer José Masdeval, doctor and botanist of the court of Carlos III of Spain. 
There are currently some 350 species (more than several of hundreds of hybrids) different from Masdevallia orchids, of which about 150 species can be found in Peru. 
The rest are spread between Mexico, Brazil and different Caribbean islands.

  • They have an erect stem that forms bouquets. They appear from tiny pseudobulbs, each of which develops a single leaf, apical, oval or lanceolate, soft and fleshy, with an intense green color.
  • Its flowers are of many and diverse bright colors. The sepals that surround the petals of the flower, are really striking. 
    They have three ribs and end up in that very long, very original thread (Masdevilla caudata), present in most species.
  • From each stem can appear several peduncles or pedicels about 6 centimeters long, which give rise to a flower with a triangular appearance.
  • The petals of the flower of the Masdevallia have a shape that could be said of shell or tongue, which are partially hidden inside the flower.

Care of the Masdevallia orchid

If you are the happy owner of a Masdevallia orchid, you may have doubts about how you can take care of it, when it is going to bloom, what type of flowerpot you need, where you should place it … in short, everything concerning your care so that it grows perfectly and continue to flourish year after year.


We are one of the few orchids that prefer to be in a location where they receive little light. Intensity of light for the Masdevallia: low to medium. 
How it is difficult to calibrate if the Masdevallia receives a lot of light, we can deduce if it is correct observing its leaves: the leaves will turn yellow with a too intense light, while if the light is insufficient, the leaves will take a very dark green color and They will lengthen in excess. 
The right place to have them at home is near or in a window where there is no direct sunlight . If we do not have a location like that, we can place it inside an illuminated room, but away from the direct sun.


Masdevallia orchids should be watered frequently, since the tiny pseudobulbs are not enough to store the water the plant needs. 
At this point you have to be very careful, because we should not let the pot dry completely, but we should not water too much. 
The frequency can be modified depending on the time of year and the ambient temperature, but we could establish that a good measure would be once a week during the winter, and two to three times a week during the summer. 
A good observation of the orchid will tell us if the frequency is correct or needs to be modified. A loss of foliage, would be a clear symptom of lack of irrigation.


The Masdevallia need temperatures that for other orchids could be considered cold. 
The ideal temperature during the day should move between 18ºC and 24ºC, while at night temperatures should move between 13ºC and 16ºC. 
During the hottest months the orchid can withstand ranges of 10º to 15º difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures. 
A very high temperature could get to “kill” the Masdevallia orchid. Therefore, in very hot and dry climates, this orchid does not grow well.

Ambient humidity and ventilation

For the Masdevallia orchid to be in correct environmental conditions, the humidity has to be rather high. It is recommended that humidity move around 60% to 80%. 
We have several ways to achieve this: placing a tray with water under the orchid (without being in contact with the roots), humidifiers or spraying the orchid with a spray several times a day. 
As the level of humidity required is high, we have to be especially careful with ventilation, so as not to have problems with fungi.

Nutrients And Fertilizer

When the orchid is in full growth (spring) it is convenient to fertilize once a week , always with the moist substrate. We will use a balanced fertilizer that promotes flowering. 
During the rest of the year it is enough to pay once a month.

Substrate, flower changes

Masdevallia orchids should be changed every year or every two years , depending a little on the pot and its growth. 
The right time is after flowering, at the beginning of winter or in the worst case, before flowering in early spring. 
How substrate is recommended to use fir bark or fern fiber, grain materials finer than the typical pine bark. The reason is that the roots of the Masdevallia are much thinner.

Masdevallia orchid bloom

The flowers of the Masdevallia orchid are usually brightly colored, with different colorations. 
The most popular shades are white, red and purple. They tend to bloom during the summer.

Don Burke

I am Don Burke, one of the authors at My Garden Guide.  I am a horticulturist that cultivates, grows, and cares for plants, ranging from shrubs and fruits to flowers. I do it in my own garden and in my nursery. I show you how to take care of your garden and how to perform garden landscaping in an easy way, step by step.I am originally from Sydney and I wrote in local magazines. Later on, I have decided, more than two decades ago, to create my own blog. My area of specialization is related to orchid care, succulent care, and the study of the substrate and the soil. Therefore, you will see many articles dedicated to these disciplines. I also provide advice about how to improve the landscape design of your garden.

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