Masdevallia stigii

 

Masdevallia stigii is found nowhere else in the world except Zone A of the Pastaza Watershed.  This is the first photo ever taken of the species.

 

Stig Dalstrom is a noted orchid expert and artist at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, Florida. He illustrates Dr. Carl Luer's series of Masdevallia and Dracula volumes, so he knows these plants as only an artist can. Subtle hard-to-explain impressions about leaf shape, carriage, and stem color stick in his memory, and since he has painted nearly all the known species, a strange Masdevallia will capture his attention even without flowers. He came to visit me in Baños in 2001, and I took him to the Zone A forests to search for his favorite plants while I searched for my favorites, Lepanthes.

     His way of moving through the forest was optimized for finding Masdevallia plants, and it was quite different from my Lepanthes-optimizing technique. His approach was slow and deliberate, and his searching style was tactile as much as visual; a campesino watching him would have thought he was a blind man fumbling through the forest by touch. He was not fumbling, but rather searching every likely branch using his hands to examine the bases of suspicious-looking orchid leaves. In these forests there are many orchids, such as Stelis and Pleurothallis, that from a distance resemble Masdevallia. The leaf bases of Masdevallia are slightly broader and more succulent, and the stems are shorter; hence the finger work to inspect suspicious clumps.

       We payed particular attention to fallen giant trees in this forest. These trees were covered with orchids of many genera, including some wonderfully odd Stelis and Pleurothallis. Not far into the day I heard Stig shout out in excitement. He is a low-key man who does not often shout, so I knew he had found something good. It was a Masdevallia! It was without flowers, but something about the leaves (which looked to me like the leaves of many other Masdevallia species) and the elevation (too low for the known species in that group) made him think it was a new species. We found a few more of the same species that day, and Stig gave me one to grow so we could confirm his suspicion. I cared for it as if it were my child, fighting off slugs by night and aphids by day, and dragging it around with me as I changed houses from Quito to Baños, where it lived for several months in my bathroom until I could construct my greenhouse. Eventually it sent out a flower spike, and it was a thrilling morning when I found the flower open ---and totally unfamiliar. I sent a scan of it to Stig and Dr. Luer, who realized at once that it was a new species. There was already a Masdevallia dalstroemii, so Dr Luer would call this one M. stigii.

     Since then we have found some additional plants of this species, but all in the same general area as the original collection site. It has not been found in any other zone within the Pastaza Watershed, and it does not occur outside of the Watershed, as far as we know. The forests where it grows are valuable for timber and pastureland, and are easy to cut down because they are almost flat. Deforestation is increasing in the area, and Masdevallia stigii should be considered a threatened species.

 

 

Masdevallia stigii LJ 4875 directly scanned.