COMPACT plant size and flashy colorful flowers make Masdevallia amabilis a choice addition to any hobby collection. This species is not difficult to cultivate providing its basic cultural requirements are met.
Light: The thick succulent leaves of Masd. amabilis foretell its need for higher light than most masdevallias. Bright filtered light (about 1,200 to 1,800 foot-candles) will result in sturdy upright growth and adequate flower production, if its other environmental needs are met. Brighter light will produce yellow-green leaves and better flowering. Masdevallia amabilis will grow well on an east-facing windowsill. If grown under lights, position the plant about 10 to 12 inches beneath the fixture. Greater distance is necessary during the flowering season.
Temperature: Masdevallia amabilis is a high-elevation, cool-growing orchid. Recommended winter night temperature is 52 to 58 F; summer days should not exceed 82 F. Masd. amabilis will tolerate a great range in temperatures, but best flower production occurs when coolest winter nights are provided.
Humidity and Air Movement: All masdevallias benefit from humidity levels of 65 percent or higher in their growing environment. Windowsill and under-lights growers can utilize pebble trays, with the plant sitting above the water, not in it. A small fan blowing across the pebbles will aid in evaporation, thus raising humidity. Constant air movement also helps keep the atmosphere fresh, reduces leaf temperature, and allows for drying of the leaves and potting medium.
Water and Fertilizer: The potting medium of Masd. amabilis should be allowed to almost dry before watering. When watering, flush the pots to ensure thorough wetting. Overwatering does not compensate for lack of humidity and may cause root rot. When uncertain whether to water Masd. amabilis, it is better to err on the dry side.
Potting: In its native habitat, Masd. amabilis is supported either terrestrially or lithophytically by a sturdy root system. Its potting medium must be moisture-retentive and allow for excellent drainage. Fine fir bark, medium-grade tree fern, osmunda and New Zealand sphagnum moss are often utilized, either alone or in various combinations. A good mix for masdevallias, such as Masd. amabilis, consists of three parts medium-grade tree fern, one to two parts chopped sphagnum and one (or less) part coarse perlite. Choose pots according to your watering style and growing area. Plastic pots will retain moisture longer than clay, although clay is recommended if Masd. amabilis is grown in New Zealand sphagnum.
How to Make it Flower: If your plant of Masd. amabilis is a shy bloomer, try cooler winter nights and a greater day-night temperature differential. Increasing light to the point of leaf yellowing also should trigger flowering.
Reprinted with the permission of the American Orchid Society. “Orchids”, published February 2000. Article authored by Marguerite Webb, J&L Orchids.