Miltonia orchids are a genus of plants that includes about 20 types and natural hybrids. This is an epiphytic orchid native to South America from the highlands of Costa Rica to Columbia and also to southern Brazil. Because of climate and cultural differences, this genus of orchids is divided into two genera or subgroups which have distinctly different growth and flowering habits. The International Registration Authority, responsible for classifying and naming orchids, groups the two genera under one classification of Miltonia. However, the warmer growing orchid (Brazil) is commonly referred to as Miltonia while the cooler highland plant (Costa Rica to Columbia) is a subgroup called Miltoniopsis.
Miltonia orchids produce leaves and flower spikes from pseudobulbs which makes them good candidates for growing as potted specimens. These orchids, unlike many others, grow year round and do not go dormant unless exposed to high temperatures and bright sun for extended periods. They flower at different times throughout the year depending on species with the Miltoniopsis genera producing blooms similar in shape and color to pansies. A common name for this subgroup is the "Pansy Orchid'.
|Common Name||Pansy orchid|
|Botanical Name||Miltonia, Miltoniopsis|
|Mature Size||12-20 in. tall|
|Sun Exposure||Indirect sun to part shade|
|Growing Media||Fir bark, moss, pebbles|
|Bloom Time||Species specific|
|Flower Color||Red, yellow, green, white, brown|
|Hardiness Zones||11-12, USDA|
|Native Area||Brazil, Colombia to Costa Rica|
Miltonia Orchid Care
Both growth habits and flower type differ among types of the Miltonia genus. It's important to become familiar with your orchid's native habitat in order to provide the proper maintenance. With the exception of Miltonia spectabilis, flower shape and color can help you differentiate between the two genera. Miltonia blooms have a more starry shape with complex patterns, while Miltoniopsis blooms in rich shades of red, green, white, yellow, and brown with the orchid lip resembling the traditional pansy "blotch" in an alternating color. All orchids of this genus require cool nights to bloom and do so at different times throughout the year depending on species.
These orchids have elongated pseudobulbs (a bulbous thickened area of the stem) with long, graceful, light green leaves that may produce a clump of foliage a foot or more in diameter. Examining the stems can also help you identify your orchid's genera. Miltonias produce two leaves from each pseudobulb while Miltoniopsis produces just one leaf. These thickened stem growths cluster closely together on Miltoniopsis and are spaced further apart on Miltonia (Brazil) orchids.
Light is one of the main differences in the culture of these two genera. Both groups grow best in partial shade with just an hour or two of bright filtered sunlight each day. Miltonia orchids are more tolerant of bright sunlight for short periods but the leaves of both types can become sunburned with too much exposure. In or within 2 feet of a north facing window is a good location. A night time location without artificial light will also encourage these orchids to bloom.
Epiphytic orchids do not grow in soil, but can thrive as potted or mounted plants. If you choose to pot your plant, the growing medium must suit the orchid type. Orchid mediums are usually made up of a layer of hard material such as pebbles, medium weight materials such as bark or wood chips as filler, and a layer of soft material such as moss or fiber on top. For Miltonia orchids, a mixture of small fir bark, sphagnum moss, and pebbles works well.
The water needs of these two genera also differ although watering for both may be decreased during the grayest periods of winter. Too much water without at least some sun can lead to root rot. Let the medium for Miltonia (Brazil) to dry out before a thorough watering. Be sure to drain any excess. Miltoniopsis prefers a consistently moist but not wet medium. It's best to water orchids in the morning, giving them a chance to dry out before nightfall.
Temperature and humidity
Both Miltonia genera require cool night time temperatures of 55 to 60 degrees in order to bloom. Miltonia (Brazil) thrives in day time temperatures below 80 degrees but will tolerate up to 90 degrees for short periods. Miltoniopsis needs cooler daytime temperatures of around 70 degrees.
Moderately high humidity between 50 to 70 percent works best with 60 percent humidity being ideal.
Feed Miltonia orchids once a month during peak growing and flowering periods, and skip fertilizing during winter months. Many orchid food products are commercially available (Miltonias are not fussy about fertilizer). Miltoniopsis is sensitive to salt, so it's advisable to flush the growing medium with just water after several feedings. If your tap water has a high mineral content you may want to filter your water or use distilled. Use room temperature water whenever possible.
Types of Miltonia
The World Checklist of Monocots recognizes 11 species and 4 natural hybrids in the Miltonia genus and 5 species of Miltoniopsis. Here are a few examples:
- Miltonia clowesii: 3-inch blooms on flower spikes up to 2 feet tall. Flowers are chestnut brown, barred and tipped with yellow with a fiddle-shaped lip that is half white, half purple. Fall bloom.
- Miltonia regnellii: 3-inch white flowers with rose purple at the base. Light pink lip is edged in white. Each stem produces 3 to 5 flowers in fall. Grows to 12 inches.
- Miltonia spectabilis: A summer bloomer that grows to 20 inches. Large, creamy white petals.
- Miltoniopsis roezlii: Flowers are velvety white with a purple blotch at the base of each petal. The lip is purplish white with a yellow base. Blooms summer and fall.
- Miltoniopsis vexillaria: Soft, grayish green foliage to 20 inches tall. Each upright stem bears up to a dozen 4-inch flowers in shades of pink to red with a darker lip. Blooms spring to fall.
Propagating Miltonia Orchids
Although it is possible to grow orchids from seed, the time (germination can take upwards of two years) and special requirements necessary for success make it more practical to purchase your first orchid from a garden center and increase your collection through cuttings. Propagation is best done at the end of the bloom period. Gather together a sharp sterile knife, a well draining pot, and growing medium of small fir bark, pebbles and sphagnum moss, then follow these directions:
- Using the knife, take stem cuttings that include at least 4 psuedobulbs with active growth (i.e., leaves or sprouting buds) leaving at least 3 active pseudobulbs on the mother plant. Gently separate the roots making sure each cutting includes viable roots.
- Add a layer of pebbles, small rock, or broken pot pieces to the bottom of a 4- to 6-inch orchid pot or one with extra drainage holes.
- Hold the cutting on top of the pebbles, being careful not to compress the roots, and start filling in around the roots and pseudobulbs with small grade fir bark. The pseudobulbs should be at or near the top surface of the bark layer.
- When the plant is secure in the pot, add a light layer of sphagnum moss on top of the bark.
- Spray the pot down with water to keep the medium moist, but avoid a full watering until new root growth is evident in one to two weeks. The appearance of new leaf buds will indicate your orchid is growing.
- Once the plant is actively growing, you can begin a regular maintenance schedule for your new orchid.
Potting and Repotting Miltonia Orchids
Miltonia orchids require superior drainage, and good air circulation for the entire plant from root to flower. So, the type of pot you choose along with your potting medium are important for your success. Clay pots work well because they are porous and will wick away excess moisture. Orchid pots have additional or larger openings for drainage and some are constructed with openings in the sides of the pot to allow better air flow to the roots. Shallow pots also work well for Miltonia.
Many different materials have been used for growing orchids and adjustments to the mix may be needed from time to time. Prepackaged orchid mixes are sufficient, however you will need to add a few pebbles, small stones, or broken pot pieces in the bottom of the pot for drainage.
Miltonia orchids bloom better when they are potbound, which means you won't need to repot for at least 2 years as long as your medium does not become overwet and your orchid stays free of fungal problems. If the plant become unwieldy due to overcrowding, you can repot in a slightly larger container; no more than 1 to 2 inches larger in diameter. Or you can divide the orchid. Plan to replace the growing materials for your orchid about every two years; any nutrients in the potting mix will be depleted by then.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases
All orchids can contract viruses. Look for light and dark streaks or pitting in the leaves. If you suspect a virus, take your orchid to a specialist or your nearest agricultural experiment station. Unfortunately, there is no cure for orchid viruses and the plant should be disposed of to avoid spreading the infection. The pot should be sanitized before it's used again.
Bacterial and fungal problems are usually the result of improper watering. Miltonia orchids are susceptible to root rot that can also affect the pseudobulbs. Remove any infected plant parts and repot the orchid in fresh, dry growing material. Place the plant in a cool location and withhold water until the plant recovers.
If small spots or patches of discoloration appear on the blooms, your orchid may have botrytis petal blight. Remove all damaged flowers or the complete stem and move the plant to a location with better indirect light. Avoid misting your orchid when it is in bloom.
Miltonia orchids are not bothered by common pests as much as other orchid genuses. Most can be removed by hand or a light brushing with a soap and water solution. Heavy infestations can be treated with neem oil.
How to Get Miltonia Orchids to Bloom
Coaxing an orchid into bloom can be a challenge. While many orchids are not difficult to grow, all orchids require a routine schedule of consistent and timely care. The best way to ensure repeat blooming is to learn about Miltonia's habitat. Is your orchid a warmer growing plant (Brazil) or a cooler growing plant (western South American highlands)? Develop and stick to a consistent schedule for light, temperature, watering and fertilization. Know the correct time of year for your plant to bloom and be prepared to make adjustments if the orchid fails to flower.
Common Problems With Miltonia Orchids
Most orchid problems result from maintenance errors. Here are a few symptoms, causes and solutions.
The leaves of Miltonia orchids are naturally a light green. When older leaves turn yellow and drop this is a natural occurrence in the life cycle of the orchid. New leaves will grow to replace them. If newer leaves turn yellow, it could be from too much sun or water. Move the plant to a cool place and withhold water for a few weeks.
Black or brown areas on leaves
The plant may be sunburned from too much bright direct sunlight. Withhold water and move the plant to a more shaded location.
Limp leaves or soft growth at the orchid's base
The growing medium is waterlogged. Repot the orchid in dry material and withhold water for one week.
Why isn't my orchid growing?
Although Miltonia orchids grow year round, the growth rate will slow during months with little to no sunlight. Move the plant to a south-facing window where it is more likely to get at least one hour, but no more than two hours of indirect sunlight each day.
Why isn't my orchid flowering?
The plant may not be in its bloom cycle. Review your care and maintenance schedule to be sure you are giving your specific orchid the correct growing conditions.
Why are the flower buds on my orchid dropping before they open?
Miltonia orchids need consistent daytime temperatures and cooler nighttime temperatures in order to flower. You may need to relocate the orchid in order to give it the correct climate. Try placing the orchid in a spot with complete darkness and no articifial light at night.