Cultivating Masdevallia & Dracula:
The Pleurothallids (Dracula, Masdevallia, Pleurothallis, and many other genera) are a wonderful group of Orchids primarily from Central and South America. They are a very large family of many Genera and thousands of very different species that come in almost every color, size & shape imaginable! The one trait that they almost always share is that of having their flowers dominated by their sepals and that they have relatively insignificant petals and lips. The sepals make up for their less showy counterparts by often being very colorful! Indeed, I believe that the Pleurothallids family contains some of the most intensely colored of all the Orchid flowers.
They are favored among many Orchid connoisseurs for they frequently can flower many times per year, often producing multiple blooms each time. Is it then no wonder why so many people are devoting so much of their orchid growing lives to the cultivation of this enchanting group?
The following is a general guideline for their culture:
Temperatures:Most of the species will grow luxuriantly in the "cool to intermediate" range (50-58F nights). In keeping with standard Orchid cultivation practice, daytime temperatures are best allowed a 10-20F degree rise from the nighttime low. The ideal would probably be a 55' nighttime temperature (Cool) all year round, which would allow the cultivation of the greatest variety of species. Fortunately, many of them will tolerate a much broader range. It is most everyone's goal to strive for a nighttime temp as close as possible to the "Ideal 50-55" nights and then to simply locate them in as cool a place as you can possibly provide during the summer months. Many people will either place them outside in the summer ( in a shady, "cool" spot), or often better yet, grow them in a cool & humid greenhouse. Another particularly good method is to grow them under fluorescents lights in one's basement as this location is oftentimes both a cool and naturally humid place.
Keep in mind that many people use the phrases "Warm growing" & "Warm Tolerant" as though they were the same thing! This is often misleading as there are relatively few truly "warm preferring" Pleurothallids while there are many that are "warm tolerant" (please read as "Intermediate growing"). Even Pleurothallid specialists often refer to some as being "warm" but most often that simply conforms to the traditional orchid terminology as "Intermediate" growing conditions.
Humidity: The Pleurothallids appreciate a relatively high humidity. A percentage range of around 75% is a good average. Short periods of lower humidity may be tolerated (lower humidity is tolerated briefly during the day if it can climb much higher during the nights), but results are always obtained if the growing environment is a stable and uniform one.
Lighting: Do not grow them in high light. They enjoy light ranges of around 800 to 1200 foot candles. This is similar that given to Paphiopedilums or Phalaenopsis orchids. It s probably best to use the plants themselves as a guide to their light requirements; if their leaves become yellowish, they may be too bright. If they turn a deep, dark green they could be in a too shady of a location (or improper fertilizer proportions). Less light in summer is sometimes better than too much as it lessens the stress that they may be enduring at that time.
Moisture: The Pleurothallids enjoy moisture. Without pseudobulbs, they have nowhere, other than in their leaves, in which to store water as do many other orchids. Therefore they should never dry for more than a few hours at a time. Best results will be found by keeping the media nearly constantly, lightly moist but never soggy & wet. Water quality is a concern because many do not appreciate a high mineral content in their water. I use collected rain water for most of the year. Many people who are unlucky with their usual water supply will use De-ionized, Distilled, Reverse Osmosis or other sources of good quality water in order to optimize growth.
A note of caution: I have been suspect of the product 'Superthrive' and other similar agents. Normally these products are harmless and may, in some cases, stimulate growth & rooting but I have also noticed a potential problem with their use on sensitive plants. I do not recommend them as an overall foliar dip. It seems that more than once I've noticed outbreaks of bacterial infections following their use. I assume that whatever ingredients that are contained in these products may be encouraging growth of more than just the desired plant. If following application, the plants' foliage & crowns do not dry sufficiently or if the humidity surrounding the plant remains high, there may be localized outbreaks of disease causing leaf drop & crown rots. If you are using these, you need not discontinue their use but do use them with caution.
Feeding: The Pleurothallids are NOT heavy feeders. I suggest a "balanced" fertilizer at about 1/4 strength every couple -three weeks. Less when plants may be under stress. Always flush well with plain water between fertilizing. Bark based mediums may require additional Nitrogen but please realize that excess nitrogen causes increased breakdown of their moist bark media.
Media: The Media choices for these, as well as most orchids, seem nearly endless. Commonly used ones are fine Bark, Tree-fern, Sphagnum moss, Rock wool, perlite & usually a combination of one or more of these. Many recipes abound although a favored one by many consists of a mix of Med grade Tree-Fern and chopped sphagnum. This is often combined with the use of clay pots which can help to maintain cool roots. Currenlty, Most all of my collection is being grown in Sphagnum moss in open-sided plastic net pots ...or wooden Baskets if they're large plants.