Of all orchids no genus we can just now call to mind is more distinct or is composed of species more widely divergent in size, form, structure, and color than is this one of Masdevallia. It was founded well nigh a century ago by Ruiz and Pavon on a species from Mexico, M. uniflora. which, so far as I know, is nearly if not quite unknown to present day cultivators. When Lindley wrote his "Genera and Species" in 1836, three species of Masdevallias only were known to botanists but twenty-five years later, when he prepared his "Folio Orchidaceae," nearly forty species were; known in herbaria, and to-day perhaps fully a hundred kinds are grown in our gardens, while travelers tell us of all the gorgeous beauties which are known to exist high up on the cloud-swept sides of the Andes and Cordilleras of the New World. The Masdevallia is confined to the Western hemisphere alone, and as in bird and animal distribution, so in the case of many orchids we find that when any genus is confined to one hemisphere, those who look for another representative genus in the other are rarely disappointed. Thus hornbills in the East are represented by toucans in the West, and the humming bird of the West by the sunbird of the East, and so also in the Malayan archipelago.
Notably in Borneo we find bolbophyls without pseudo bulbs, and with solitary or few flowered scapes and other traits singularly suggestive at first sight of the Western Masdevallia. Thus some bolbophyl, for example, have caudal appendages to their sepals, as in Masdevallias, and on the other hand some Masdevallias have their labellums hinged and oscillatory, which is so commonly the case as to be "almost characteristic" in the genus Bolbophyllum or Sarcopodium. Speaking generally, Masdevallias, coming as most of them do from high altitudes, lend themselves to what is now well known as "cool treatment," and cultivators find it equally necessary to offer them moisture in abundance both at the root and in the atmosphere, also seeing that when at home in cloud-land they are often and well nigh continually drenched by heavy dews and copious showers.
Of all the cultivated Masdevallias, none are so weirdly strange and fascinating as is the species M. chimaera, which is so well illustrated in the accompany engraving. This singular plant was discovered by Benedict Roezl, and about 1872 or 1873 I remember M. Lucien Linden calling upon me one day, and among other rarities showing me a dried flower of this species. I remember I took up a pen and rapidly made a sketch of the flower, which soon after appeared (1873, p. 3) in The Florist, and was perhaps the first published figure of the plant. It was named by Professor Reichenbach, who could find for it no better name than that of the mythical monster Chimaera, than which, as an old historian tells us, no stranger bogy ever came out of the earth's inside. Our engraving shows the plant about natural size, and indicates the form and local coloring pretty accurately. The ground color is yellowish, blotched with lurid brownish crimson, the long pendent tails being blood color, and the interior of the sepals are almost shaggy. The spectral appearance of the flower is considerably heightened by the smooth, white, slipper-like lip, which contrasts so forcibly in color and texture with the lurid shagginess around it.
Sir J. D. Hooker, in describing this species in the Botanical Magazine, t. 6, 152, says that the aspect of the curved scape as it bears aloft its buds and hairy flowers is very suggestive of the head and body of a viper about to strike. Dr. Haughton, F.R.S., told me long ago that Darlingtonia californica always reminds him of a cobra when raised and puffed out in a rage, and certainly the likeness is a close one.
Grown in shallow teak wood baskets, suspended near the roof in a partially shaded structure, all the chimaeroid section of Masdevallia succeed even better than when grown in pots or pans, as they have a Stanhopea-like habit of pushing out their flowers at all sorts of deflected angles. A close glance at the engraving will show that for convenience sake the artist has propped up the flower with a stick, this much arrangement being a necessity, so as to enable the tails to lie diagonally across the picture. From tip to tip the flower represented is 9 inches, or not so much by 7 inches as the flower measured in Messrs. Backhouse's nursery at York.--The Garden.
The Spectral Masdevallia
Masdevallia Chimaera (Natural Size)