Maxillaria variabilis

Maxillaria variabilis is a miniature species found over quite a wide area of South America, and in a wide range of colour forms. Probably because it is so widespread, it seems quite amenable to being grown over a wide range of temperatures and performs well for me in my warm grow room. I have several plants and they do differ slightly in form and habit, as well as the more obvious differences in flower colour. Many growers tell me they grow well outside for the summer, with the usual precautions against excessive rain, sun or insect attack being taken.

The foliage is grassy and narrow with pseudobulbs having one or two leaves. Although the yellow form, pictured above, produces its pseudobulbs broadly in a similar pattern to M. tenuifolia, it is much better at ‘clumping’ and doesn’t seem to get too straggly. Some of the other colour forms, especially the ‘black’ form, are much stragglier. Adult, blooming size plants are quite happy in 9cm pots, so this is really one for those people who claim to have no space! It enjoys bright light but will scorch in direct summer sun.

I am not sure quite what the trigger for blooming is, but this does seem to be a species that blooms in flushes rather than intermittently.  Once the delicate yellow blooms open, the first thing that strikes you is the scent. Quite heavy, perfumed and sweet. I find it very pleasant indeed and would quite happily just have it for the scent. While the flowers are quite small, the entire plant is also quite small, so they actually aren’t out of proportion at all.

If growing this species warm, as I do, it is important to keep it well watered and it doesn’t enjoy drying out. It is an easy species to grow and is an ideal candidate for growing on a windowsill.

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