Another entry authored by Bryant today. He writes:
Masdevallia veitchiana is native to Peru (where it is commonly referred to as gallo-gallo). It is a member of the Orchidaceae, and has a prominent history in the orchid trade. It was first collected by Richard Pearce in 1866, while he was on a plant exploration trip in the Andes of Peru. It became popular among the early Victorian orchid breeders for its vibrant orange colour and its elegant petals. Masdevallia veitchiana is a high-altitude and relatively cold-tolerant species, typically growing in the range of 2000 to 4000 metres (6500 to 13000 feet). The flowers are usually around 5 x 15cms and appear at the end of ~45cm long spikes or stems. The genus Masdevallia is comprised of around 500 species, with most being native to Central and South America.
For the interested gardener, Masdevallia veitchiana can be cultivated easily given the right conditions: it requires almost constant moisture and a decent amount of light to produce flowers. It enjoys temperatures ranging from 15 to 26 degrees Celsius (60-80 Fahrenheit), but will tolerate cool evening and nighttime temperatures as low as 0 degrees Celsius (32 F). It should be brought inside during extended periods of cold.
It is thought that the Inca also treasured this orchid for its beauty, perhaps even cultivating it. The Inca refer to this species as Waqanki (alternate spellings Wakanki or Wajanki), literally translated from Quechua to “you will cry”. Apparently, Waqanki alludes to an ancient Incan legend of a distraught princess who fled into the forest after her love for a warrior was denied; the gods eventually relieved her of her sorrow by turning her into a flower (I could not find an original translation of the legend to share).
On a conservation note, many Peruvian orchids are under severe threat from overharvesting, deforestation and fires. To learn more about Peruvian orchids and some of the current conservation issues check out the article Peruvian Orchids in Danger, by Benjamin Collantes. For other information on orchid conservation efforts in and outside of Peru visit the site of the Orchid Conservation Coalition.