When I saw Maxillaria equitans for the first time, it was at an orchid society sale. I thought the woman selling it must be crazy--why would she be selling a succulent at an orchid sale? Yet, being a succulent lover too, I had to inquire. And indeed, this weird little plant, with knobbly skin and a flat, ladder-like growth habit (botanists describe it as "bilaterally compressed, imbricating leaves") is an orchid. And not only that, it's an orchid from one of my favorite genera--the easy, striking, tolerant-of-overwatering Maxillarias! I grabbed that sucker in a hot second.
I had not done my homework to even check what the flowers looked like before I bought it. (I clearly have no impulse control around maxillarias.) Not seven months later, it was blooming for me. And man, was I in luck! The flowers are gorgeous and fragrant--like sweet fresh grapes. Its common name is the "leaf-riding maxillaria." I'm guessing that's because the flowers have no perceivable stem--they spring straight out from the leaf axils.
This orchid is blooming size at less than 12 inches high, and as you can see, it's already growing two buddies at the base. It's extremely easy to take care of, especially if you have a bit of heat for it. It enjoys low to medium light. (Its situation in my home is high-phalaenopsis/low-cattleya light.) My winter grow room runs temps in the low 60s at night and mid-70s during the day, but Maxillaria equitans likes it a bit hotter, so I keep it on a seed-starting mat along with my other warm/hot growers. (Bottom heat goes a long way to convincing orchids that they are somewhere much more tropical than they really are!)
I pulled down the lip a bit here to illustrate how luscious the flower is inside--it has waxy drops of deep purple, perfectly reminiscent of its lovely grapey scent. Be sure to keep humidity at or above 40%, especially when in spike, or its buds will blast.
Maxillaria equitans, a popular industry synonym being Heterotaxis equitans, hails from Central and South America in wet forests, so it likes things a bit wetter than the average bear. It appreciates drying a bit between waterings, though, too. These kind of wishy-washy cultural tips usually drive me wild, but with this orchid, it's the truth--and Max. equitans is just so easy to care for, not much seems to go wrong with it. I grow it in a mix of small bark, sphagnum moss, and perlite.
If you're looking to make a wacky but beautiful statement with your orchid collection, do get one of these. You'll keep your orchid friends guessing!