Miltonias were discovered in South America and then divided into two genera, Miltonia and Miltoniopsis, in 1889. Although closely allied, there are some differences in cultivation techniques as these two cousins grow in different areas on the continent. There are now many hybrids and most people know these plants as “pansy orchids”. Milt. spectabilis, is one of the most commonly used parents responsible for the brilliant reds. However almost any colour combinations may be produced with whites, pinks and yellows all frequently seen. The striking feature is the “mask” of contrasting colour on the wide skirt-like labellum found in the hybrids.
As with most epiphytes, an open bark mix is needed for cultivation. The Miltoniopsis prefer a slightly smaller bark with their fine roots compared to the Miltonias. Both genera like a rest period with no watering immediately after flowering. Small pots in comparison to the size of the plant prevent water-logging, probably the commonest cause of plant loss. Humidity should be relatively high and extremes of temperature, both hot and cold, avoided if possible. When growing they appreciate weak fertiliser regularly.
Natural hybrids between the species are not uncommon and both genera have been used extensively with other South American genera to produce intergeneric hybrids. These plants are amongst the most spectacular that can be found in any orchid show and always attract attention.
The Eastern Suburbs Orchid Society has an orchid show on the third Monday of every month at 8pm, St Luke’s Church Hall, Varna Street, Clovelly. Visitors are always welcome.