An Appreciation and Their Culture

by Gary Baker - Courtesy American Orchid Society Bulletin - February 1990

Brazilian miltonias are among the unfortunate stepchildren of the orchid world. They have suffered because they are not "pansy orchids", those orchids most people think of when the word Miltonia is mentioned. Of course, scholars now regard the Colombia pansy orchids as a separate genus, Miltoniopsis.

Still, the stigma remains attached to those species and hybrids lumped under the somewhat misleading heading of Brazilian miltonias. Never mind that Brazilian miltonias are infinitely easier for most orchid collectors to grow than the pansy orchids. Never mind that Brazilian miltonias come in a variety of shapes and colours beyond the wildest dreams of the Miltoniopsis grower. Never mind that Brazilian miltonias flower in the summer when orchid blooms are notoriously scarce in our greenhouses; because they do not resemble pansies, these beauties have gotten shoved off the main stage of the orchid world.

That is sad. Brazilian miltonias, when accepted for what they are and not rejected for what they aren't, are a wonderfully easy group of plants that produce copious, often richly coloured flowers of good size and intriguing forms.

Surely the best known species in this large assemblage is Miltonia spectabilis, a native of Brazil. The typical form has creamy-white sepals and petals, sometimes suffused with rose at their bases, and a large, broad lip varying from white marked and streaked with rose - purple to solid rose - purple. Flowers are characteristically born singly. There are a number of colour variants if this species, the most spectacular variety Moreliana with deep, rich plum - purple flowers, easily reaching four inches from top to bottom. A rare alba form is also in cultivation; its individual blooms are white with a small amount of yellow on the proximal portions of this lips.

Miltonia spectabilis had been used widely in breeding. Unfortunately, its characteristic
single flower has a definite negative impact on its progeny, for flower count in its children is typically very limited, and these flowers are customarily crowded. A classic example is Miltassia Charles M Fitch, the cross of Miltonia spectabilis and Brassia verrucosa. Its attractive flowers, four to five in number, are bunched at the end of the inflorescence.

Miltonia regnellii is another popular species from Brazil. In this species, the inflorescence will stand nearly 15 inches high, bearing a succession of six or more flowers nearly three inches high. The flowers open successively, so the plants stay in flower a long period of time. Typically Miltonia regnellii has white flowers with much rose - lavender suffusion on each labellum. Some forms have flowers nearly purely white. Forms are known in which the petals and sepals are light rose - purple, and there are at least two known clones with yellow sepals and petals, again with rose - lavender lips. Both "Citrina" and "Aurea" have been used extensively in hybridising, where their yellow colours have proven a boon to hybridisers.

A third Brazilian species is Miltonia clowesii, a strikingly handsome species with inflorescences towering nearly two feet tall, frequently crowned with up to ten flowers nearly three inches across. The sepals and petals, in contrast to those of the previous two species, are strikingly marked. It is difficult to tell whether the flowers are light yellow - brown with dark chestnut marking, or the reverse. The tips of the segments are marked with yellow. The wasp - waist lips are white with purplish violet on their proximal halves. All in all a most attractive species when in flower.

These three species are all summer - to early fall - flowering, making them valuable additions to our orchid collections, which are notoriously scare of blooms in the long days of summer.

Another Brazilian species, this one normally flowering in late spring to midsummer, is Miltonia flavescens. No one would ever mistake this unusual species for the above three. In fact, it strongly resembles a Brassia or spider orchid. Here one can find as many as a dozen pale yellow flowers, each with narrow petals and sepals. There is a bit of red - purple on the basal half of each lip, adding contrast to the straw - coloured flowers.

Other species include the Brazilian Miltonia candida with colouring similar to Miltonia clowesii but with an almost tubular lip, which is a rather unusual, but not unattractive sight. It bears as many as seven flowers, lightly fragrant, which are nearly three inches across. Then there is Miltonia cuneata, again from Brazil, but flowering in the early spring. The colour of the flowers resembles that of Miltonia clowesii. Six to eight flowers nearly three inches in diameter are typical for this species.

Miltonia warscewiczii of southern Central America and northern South America is quite unlike any other species listed here. Its narrow petals and sepals are brownish red, with their margins twisted and undulated. By far the most spectacular aspect of each flower is the lip, which is almost shield - shaped and of a rich reddish brown to rose - purple. It is not unreasonable to think that this species is really quite distinct from the preceding ones, and indeed this is probably closer to the classic genus Oncidium than to the other species of Miltonia. The individual flowers are about two inches long, and many of them are borne on the branched inflorescence, which can reach two feet tall. It also carries a light fragrance. There is also a rare Alba form with light yellow flowers.

The last species to be mentioned is the Central America Miltonia schroederiana. Again, this one has a branched inflorescence of powerfully fragrant flowers. The sepals and petals are chestnut - brown, marked with yellow and green. The lip whitish at its base, with the free half of the lip rose - purple. Because the petals are ascending and the lateral sepals are reflexed, the flower looks quite unlike any other in this assemblage.

Several natural hybrids exist in this group. By far the best know is Miltonia Bluntii, the hybrid between Miltonia spectabilis and Miltonia clowesii. The sepals and petals open creamy yellow but lose the yellow flush as they age. Each three-inch flower has brownish lavender blotches, while the lips are white with purple on their bases. Normally one or two (rarely three) flowers are borne on each raceme.

Two other suspected natural hybrids are Miltonia Lamarckeana (candida x clowesii) and
Miltonia Leucoglossa (spectabilis x candida). The artificially created primary hybrid Miltonia Cogniauxia (spectabilis x regnellii) was an unusually successful cross. Flowers can vary from nearly pure white to rich deep lavender. It bears two to three flowers per raceme.

A cornucopia of complex hybrids has been created, due especially to the pioneering efforts of the late W.W.G Moir. An account of the recent, exciting entities is beyond the cope this paper.

Brazilian Miltonias can be grown right along with your Cattleya hybrids and Oncidiums. They tolerate the same light intensity, although they can be grown with much less light. Normally, Brazilian Miltonia have quite yellowish leaves. It is typical for someone encountering these for the first time to be concerned about the yellowish leaves. Well, it's normal!

If they are grown under light intensities significantly lower than those for Cattleyas or
Oncidiums, the leaves become much darker green.

Indeed, treat these like Oncidiums or Cattleyas and you should find them thriving for you, Problems are few. Mealy bugs like them and aphids are sometimes seen on flower buds. From my experience, 70% isopropyl alcohol is as safe and effective an insecticide as you will find. Just spray it on undiluted, straight from the rubbing alcohol bottle. Perhaps the worst problem is the die back seen on older leaf tips. I suspect this is a result of fertilising too often or too heavily, resulting in a salt deposit in the leaf tips, This deposit kills the cells in the apex of the leaves, leading to infections by bacteria and fungi. Keep the dead leaf tips cut off, and your problems should be minimal.

However, two words of caution are necessary. First, these need a lot of water when they are actively growing. They are much more like Colombian miltonias than Cattleyas in this respect. Their roots are quite fine and thrive in fine compost, similar to what you would use for Oncidiums. Fertilize as you would for Cattleyas or Oncidiums. Second, with a few notable exceptions, such as Miltonia schroederiana, Miltonia candida and Miltonia warscewiczii, these produce unreasonably long internodes, with the result that the plats literally traverse the diameter of a pot in one growing season. It becomes very difficult to grow these into even small specimen plants in regular pots, because a plant with five pseudobulbs might need a pot 10 inches across. This is particularly a problem with Miltonia spectabilis and its hybrids. The solution to this mess is simple, don't use pots. Mount them on cork or else put them into baskets!

Give them lots of room to grow over the next half dozen years and you will be rewarded with copious amounts of colourful flowers with a minimum of effort on your part.

And isn't that what orchid growing should be all about?


Elanbee Orchids