This genus, related to the Pleurothallids, has approximately 50 species of small epiphytic species with paddle-shaped leaves. They grow in the cloud forests of Mexico to Peru and are generally in the micro-miniature or mini-mini size range with tiny flowers. Many of these plants only have one-inch or 3 centimeter leaves and their tiny flowers are sometimes 1/16 of an inch or 3 millimeters across. For this size plant, a magnifying glass is helpful to really enjoy these tiny treasures. Some hold their flowers on long inflorescences above the leaves, and some seem to flower down in the leaves. The one thing they have in common is that the flowers are borne sequentially so that they can be enjoyed for the greater part of the year. We will concentrate here on two of the more popular species Platystele compacta and Platystele stenostachya.
Platystele compacta is the type species for the genus. It is found in mostly in Costa Rica as an epiphyte. It is truly tiny -- the leaves are only about .5 inches or 3-4 centimeters long with the flower spikes holding the .25 inch or 3-4 millimeter yellow flowers about 4 inches or 10 centimeters above the top of the leaf mass. The name was given to draw attention to the fact that the flowers are all held on top of the inflorescence and when it is flowering they look like little tufts. It is a creeping plant and will form nice clumps that flower year long under the correct conditions. It is perfect for terrarium use if you can keep the temperatures cool enough. They should be grown in pots or mounted in moderately shaded areas.
Platystele stenostachya is an unusual member of its genus in that there are two forms of the species known -- one from Mexico and Central American and the other from Venezuela, Columbia and Bolivia. Both produce thin inflorescences which begin to flower between the leaves but lengthen and continue to flower above the leaves. The leaves are .5 inches or 4-5 centimeters long with the inflorescences moving above the leaves as the flowers are produced sequentially. The tiny 1/16 inch or 3 millimeter bright yellow, crystalline flowers are produced all year, but most heavily in the late summer and fall. The growing habit of this species, as the one above, is to form dense mounds with the flowers held slightly above the plant. The northern or larger form of the species is a more vigorous grower, but both types flower nicely in cultivation. I've read that this is a hot to cool grower, but most experts seem to do better with intermediate to cool temperatures. These plants should be grown in pots or mounted and would also be good candidates for terrarium use.