365 days of orchids – day 536 – Masdevallia hystrix


Masdevallia hystrix is one of our smelliest orchids with a strong scent described by students as similar to sick or pooh! – it always gets a reaction.

Masdevallia hystrix grows in Ecuador at around 2500m in cool evergreen forest. We have noticed that its leaves are easily damages by bright summer sunshine or high temperatures so cool and shady is where it likes to grow.

The flowers are large with a spam of 15cm from the tips of the tails. Lookout to for the prickly lip that gives the species its name. Hystrix is latin for porcupine!


Working with Devon Wild Life trust to save the Lesser Butterfly Orchid

We are delighted to be working with Steve Threlkeld who manages the Dunsdon Nature reserve in West Devon to help reverse the decline in one of Britains iconic orchid species.

The project forms part of the Back from the Brink project to save Britain’s most threatened species from extinction and students will be raising plants from seed in the Mendip Propagation Laboratory as part of their R & D project work.

Yesterdays visit to Devon was stage 1 to identify plants for propagation and meet Steve to plan the project. The Lesser Butterfly Orchid is a delicate but large flowered orchid pollinated by moths.

Dunsdon has one of the largest populations of the orchid in Devon where it grows in the rare Culm Grassland habitat with a special diversity of other species. During the visit students found a number of rare species, apart from the lesser butterfly orchid, including common lizard. Jack de Leeuw who is the groups reptile expert described the visit as; “a great chance to explore a special habitat and an inspiring start to our exciting project.”


The plan is for students to raise large numbers of the species from seed for reintroduction into the site to expand the current population and ensure the future for this lovely species.



365 days of orchids – day 535 – Barkeria spectabilis


This species is found in the wild in Mexico, Guatemala and El  Salvador in dryish oak forest from 1200m to about 2000m. We grow it with a minimum temperature of 15 degrees C mounted on a cork slab in our Warm Americas section.

The natural habitat indicates it could be grown cool (down to about 12 degrees) but our plants seem to appreciate the heat. It flowers in the late spring and has a lot of flower for the size of the plant.

We have tried growing the species in pots but we the roots have always suffered from rots and the plants have struggled as a result. On cork bark mounts the roots are wonderful and last for years, so we will always grow plants mounted in future.


365 days of orchids – day 534 – Masdevallia rolfeana


This floriferous masdevallis is native to Central America and we have seen it in Costa Rica growing on the trunks and lower branches of trees in dense forest at 1200m on the slopes of the Poas Volcano (see photo below)

The photo shows the mossy trunk that was covered in Masdevallias. The temperatures here go down to a minimum of around 12C with no distinct dry season. We grow the species both mounted, like the plant at the top which won Best Masdevallia at the Malvern Show, in baskets and in pots. We spray plants daily.

We are sometimes asked about black spots that appear on Masdevallia leaves and it is interesting to note that wild plants have these spots on older leaves too. One of the reasons for black spots in our greenhouse is excessively high temperatures causing heat stress in the leaves so don’t forget to shade plants and keep them well watered when the weather gets hot this summer.


365 days of orchids – day 533 – Brassavola tuberculata


We gave a brief view of this species earlier in the week as it was one of our awarded plants at the Malvern Show. Here is some proper detail on one of our favourite old plants.

This terete leaved relative of Cattleya is native to Brazil where it grows in warm open forest in good light. It is relatively slow growing and we find it does best mounted where its long lived roots can grip tightly to the bark. We find it dislikes pots or baskets presumably because the roots cannot tolerate prolonged wet periods. Saying this we find that mounted it enjoys being watered daily and when we have with held watering at flowering time the flowers have not opened fully – so mounted but well watered seems to be its preference in our greenhouse.

It is certainly enjoying itself at the moment and has about seventy perfect large fragrant flowers completely smothering the plant. I think we have had this plant on this mount for about fifteen years and we are in no hurry to move it on.

It hangs high in Warm Americas in good light and is very little trouble. We are delighted that the RHS Orchid Committee are impressed by the plant too.