Orchids are a huge family of plants comprising about 880 genera and more than 26,000 species, not to mention the thousands of hybrid varieties out there. In such a huge group of plants, it is easy to get lost looking for the right orchid to start with or add to your existing collection.
Some orchids are exceptionally high maintenance, needing greenhouse conditions to survive, while others are quite happy to live inside the home or spend part of the year outdoors and part indoors. If you are just starting with orchid cultivation or are looking for a nice, low-maintenance orchid to add to your collection, Miltonia orchids are a very attractive group of plants that are quite easy to care for.
What are Miltonia Orchids?
These houseplants are prized for their large, long-lasting, roselike-scented flowers.
The Miltonia genus is a small group, as orchids go, but one with great promise and value as a houseplant. Like Oncidium orchids, Miltonia orchid care is much the same as that genus and the Phalaenopsis genus. They have similar water, light, and humidity requirements, so if you’ve cultivated either of these types, you should have an easy go of it with a Miltonia orchid.
The genus is known for having large, long-lasting flowers with a fragrance commonly described as roselike. They are easy to cultivate and hybridize, so there are many hybrid varieties, making this small genus actually quite a large group in the grand scheme of things.
The plant was first recorded by English botanist John Lindley in 1837.
The Miltonia genus was recorded by English Botanist John Lindley. This was a larger genus until the 1970s. At this time, many species were removed from the Miltonia genus and transferred into the genera Miltoniopsis and Oncidium.
Both Miltonia and Miltoniopsis orchids have interchangeably been given the nickname ‘pansy orchids.’ However, the latter more closely resembles the cool weather-blooming pansy. Many currently recognized MIltonia species were originally classified as Oncidium, Odontoglossum, and Cyrtochilum.
Miltonia orchids originate in South America, mostly in Brazil.
South America is home to these wonderful plants, although their exact native range is debatable. While some sources claim these orchids are native exclusively to Brazil, others have pointed to examples found in Columbia, Peru, and Ecuador.
However, since Miltonia and Miltoniopsis orchids are commonly grouped together, the actual range is more likely to be limited to Brazil. They grow in the forests of the Andes mountains, in trees, on mossy branches.
They are known for their showy labellum and colorful, elongated petals.
All orchids are perennial, living and blooming continuously over many years. Most orchids take five to seven years to begin blooming, but because the same plant can be divided indefinitely into more plants, orchids are said by many to be immortal. A single specimen can live up to 100 years if given the proper care.
Most orchids are evergreen. There are a few exceptions of deciduous orchids, but they do not exist within this genus. They retain their leaves year-round, and the only indication of dormancy is the slowing of growth after flowering. However, growth never completely stops, and the Miltonia orchid will not lose leaves seasonally.
These orchids are epiphytic, meaning they grow on trees, deriving most of their water and nutrients through their exposed root system. These roots grow on the bark of trees and are exposed to the air, so they also like a lot of air circulation.
All Miltonia orchids, and a majority of orchids in general, fall into this category, and this is the greatest and most complicated factor in orchid care.
Miltonia orchids are commonly nicknamed “pansy orchids,’ although it is their cousin, the Miltoniopsis genus, that most closely resembles the pansy. They tend to have longer, narrower, and more pointed petals and sepals, which are uniform in shape and size in most cases.
They usually have a very large labellum in comparison to the rest of the flower. This labellum is commonly a bit splashier and more flamboyant than the petals. The column is hidden, and the anther cap is small, occasionally with more than one lobe. Most Miltonia flowers are shades of pink and purple, but there are some with shades of yellow and green as well.
These orchids have a sympodial growth habit. They produce pseudobulbs along a horizontally moving rhizome. Each of these pseudobulbs produces light green leaves and a single inflorescence.
The fragrant flowers make them popular houseplants.
Miltonia orchids are primarily used as ornamental plants. Their lovely flowers are very decorative and fragrant, making them excellent houseplants. This particular genus has been used extensively in hybridization, as well.
Miltonia orchids are easy to maintain and ideal for beginners.
As I mentioned before, Miltonia orchids are quite similar to Oncidium and Phalaenopsis orchids in terms of the care they require. If you have cared for one of these types, Miltonia should be easy to care for. These are among the easier orchids to care for and make a good plant for the novice.
How to Grow
If you live outside of a tropical climate, orchids must be portable. In a tropical climate, they can be tied to a tree, where they will quickly wrap roots around branches and thrive with very little care. For the rest of us, orchids need to come indoors in the winter, so they must be planted in containers.
Three different types of containers are made especially with orchids in mind. Orchids also need special containers because of their sensitive roots. An orchid container needs to have excellent drainage, as well as the ability to allow air to circulate, so that orchid roots can dry between waterings. There are three basic types of orchid pots on the market.
- Terracotta orchid pots – These look like standard orchid pots, but they will have additional drainage on both the sides and the bottom of the pot. Terracotta is great because it wicks water away from the roots, but your plants won’t risk drying out too much.
- Wooden orchid baskets – These wide-slatted baskets make great outdoor orchid planters. Because of their large drainage holes, they can be rather messy indoors, as they drop a lot of potting mix when you water or jostle them about. They do create a very natural habitat for the orchid, though, so they are worthwhile if you keep your orchids outdoors.
- Decorative ceramic orchid pots – These are the most decorative of the types and come in lots of color, shape, and size options. They typically have patterns of decorative holes around the pot and a dish attached to the bottom. The only issue with these pots is that water can pool in the dish, and orchid roots should not sit in the water.
They thrive in bright, indirect sunlight but avoid direct sun exposure that can harm their delicate leaves.
Miltonia orchids like bright but indirect sunlight. Direct sun will burn Miltonia’s relatively thin, light-colored leaves quite quickly. A couple hours of morning sun would be much less damaging than the afternoon sun. Just next to a brightly lit window is a great place for a Miltonia.
If an orchid is getting too much sun, it will let you know by the color of its leaves. Sun bleaches the color from the leaves and eventually burns them. If your orchid’s leaves are faded and droopy, move them slightly away from the light source. Conversely, if an orchid doesn’t get enough sun, it will produce dark green growth and little else. An orchid won’t flower if it doesn’t get the correct amount of light.
I find that moving my orchids outdoors during the warmer months does them a world of good. It is easier to attain the right light exposure outdoors, and the shifting of daylight hours triggers blooming in most orchids, which is not as easily replicated indoors.
The plant thrives with a twice-weekly watering regimen.
Miltonia orchids like water but don’t like sitting in it. Generally, the proper watering schedule is once per week, and their roots should be allowed to dry between waterings. Miltonias like a bit more water than average, and their roots should not get too dry, or their leaves will suffer. They will benefit from twice-weekly watering, especially when in an active growth phase.
Because of this twice-weekly watering practice, it is extra important to pot these orchids properly so that the water can drain and there is plenty of air circulation around the roots. Otherwise, it will be very easy to end up with root rot. Root rot is the main cause of the demise of indoor orchids. This is less of an issue with outdoor orchids because of air movement and heat.
Pay close attention to Miltonia’s leaves if you stick to a once-weekly watering routine. If they begin to wrinkle in an accordion fashion, they need more water.
Miltonia orchids, being epiphytic, require specialized potting mixtures like orchid bark.
Because of their epiphytic nature, they cannot be planted in regular potting soil. Standard potting soils are meant to hold water, as most plants thrive in moist soil. Orchids, however, do not. Because orchid roots are exposed in nature, they need to be provided with a lot of air circulation, and they don’t like to stay moist.
Orchid bark mixes are available in most places where orchids are sold. Orchid bark mix is made up of about 60% bark, with the remaining 40% a combination of other large particles such as charcoal, sponge rock, pumice, and peat moss. If you prefer to mix your potting mix personally, this is a good ratio of bark to additional elements.
Temperature and Humidity
They thrive in temperatures around 70°-80°F during the day and 55°-65°F at night.
Miltonia orchids prefer a daytime temperature between 70°-80°F and between 55°-65°F at night. This factor makes keeping this type of orchid as a houseplant feasible since these are common indoor temperatures. However, they also need to be kept at about 70% humidity, slightly higher than most people prefer for their homes.
Because Miltonias are moisture-loving orchids, it is important to ensure they are getting enough humidity. You may find a bathroom or kitchen is a good place for your orchid. Just next to a bathroom window or a window above the kitchen sink are great spots for orchids, as there tends to be increased humidity in these areas.
Some other options to increase the humidity around your orchids are a humidifier, which works great but is a bit high maintenance, or a pebble tray, which is less so. A pebble tray is exactly what it sounds like – a small dish with pebbles and water. The orchid pot sits on the dish, the pebbles elevate it to keep roots out of the water, and as the water evaporates, it raises the humidity just around that particular plant.
As orchid bark lacks nutrient retention, orchids may need frequent fertilization.
Orchids don’t get much nutrients from their soil, so they like to be fertilized regularly. Miltonia orchids should be fertilized every two weeks. Specialty orchid fertilizers can be found at most orchid retailers and contain a good balance of nutrients formulated for orchids.
A balanced all-purpose fertilizer will also work for orchids. If you use a 10-10-10 formula, it should be diluted to ¼ to ½ strength to avoid buildup on leaves and burnout. Water solubility is the most important factor for orchid fertilizers, as you will need to add the fertilizer to water to feed the plant.
The reason orchids require such frequent fertilization is because of their potting mixture. The large particles that orchid bark is made of don’t hold the nutrients the soil would. As a result, when you fertilize your orchids, set the pot down into a container of fertilizer and water for several minutes, allowing the roots to absorb the solution.
While orchids generally don’t require regular pruning, removing spent flower spikes can encourage reblooming.
Miltonia orchids tend to be lower maintenance than some other types of orchids. They don’t like for their potting medium to break down, so repotting yearly after the blooms fall is a good practice to make them happy. Aside from that and your regular care routine, they are a nice, hardy type of orchid.
Orchids do not require regular pruning for growth and flowering. They will naturally shed their leaves when they run out of nutrients to support the plant. They also do not require deadheading, as they drop their own flowers as well.
There are two exceptions: the first is that cutting off the spent flower spikes after the flowers fall may encourage the orchid to bloom again in the same season. It is proper practice to cut it off just above the first node closest to the leaves.
The other exception is when there is foliage affected by pests or diseases. Orchid leaves, once damaged, no longer do the plant any service, nor can the damage be undone. On the contrary, damaged leaves are more susceptible to fungal infection and can take on a case of rot very quickly. The recovery of the plant should remove damaged leaves so that the plant can redirect energy to new growth.
They are efficiently propagated through division by cutting the rhizome between two pseudobulbs.
Sympodial orchids are best propagated by division. There are other methods, but because of the sympodial growth habit, division is the more efficient method. Sympodial orchids are divided by slicing through the rhizome in between two pseudobulbs. There should be enough growth on the plant to leave pseudobulbs in groups of 4 at the outset, as the stored energy from the older pseudobulbs will help support new growth and create photosynthesis.
After dividing a Miltonia orchid, each new plant should then be potted on its own and cared for in the same way as the parent plant. Each plant will produce a new pseudobulb from the area where the plant was cut, except for the portion with the newest growth. This one will continue to grow from the newest growth.
Orchids tend to have a lot of potential issues, and because they grow slowly and their flowering process is a long one that requires a lot of patience, it can be very discouraging to see something go awry with your orchid’s health.
Insufficient light might be the problem for orchids not flowering despite regular fertilizing.
Most often, when an orchid doesn’t bloom for an entire year, there is an issue with nutrients or sunlight. If you have been fertilizing regularly, and your plant produces plenty of new growth but no flowers, the issue is insufficient light.
Try moving your orchid closer to a light source, or supplementing with artificial light can be helpful in this instance. However, if the new growth is sparse and lighter in color, you probably need to give the plant more fertilizer.
They naturally shed older leaves around flowering time due to nutrient allocation.
Orchids shed their oldest leaves about once per year. This usually happens right before or right after the plant flowers, as the plant directs nutrients toward the flowers, and those oldest leaves will be the first to go. If your orchid loses more than one set of leaves, there is a problem.
Losing leaves can be caused by root or crown rot. Both of these issues stem from poor watering habits. Root rot results from the potting medium remaining wet and beginning to decay. The decaying matter invites fungus, which rots the roots, inhibiting them from taking up water and nutrients.
Crown rot is the result of watering from the top down, allowing water to pool in the leaves and crown of the plant. This can be avoided by watering your plant from the bottom early in the day, giving it time to evaporate before the temperature drops in the evening.
Miltonia orchids show shriveled leaves when dehydrated, indicated by accordion-like crinkling.
Shriveled leaves are usually caused by dehydration. If you notice your orchid’s broad, flat leaves begin to crinkle in an accordion fashion, it probably needs water pretty badly.
Orchids attract sap-feeding pests like aphids, mealybugs, scales, and thrips.
Several pests can be an issue for orchids. Orchids have a lot of sap in their fleshy leaves and produce a lot of nectar. This makes them attractive to insects. Pests such as aphids, mealybugs, scales, and thrips are all insects that feed on the sap of plants, draining them of valuable nutrients.
These insects drain the plant of vital nutrients and leave behind a sticky mess of excrement called honeydew. This attracts ants, which are less of an issue. More importantly, it provides a place for black sooty mold to grow, which interferes with photosynthesis and can be rather serious.
If you notice signs of infestation, isolate the plant and treat it with neem oil or insecticidal soap to eliminate the pests. Then, remove any black sooty mold by hand with a soft, damp cloth.
Orchids are commonly affected by root rot due to overwatering or poor drainage.
Root rot is the most common disease that orchids, particularly indoor orchids, have to contend with. Usually, the result of overwatering or poor drainage. By the time the crown is affected, it is very difficult to salvage the plant. Repotting with fresh potting material and removing the affected root tissue can be effective if the plant is not too far gone.
Other fungal and bacterial diseases that affect orchids are typically the result of bringing in infected plants and poor plant hygiene. Many of these pathogens are waterborne and travel from one plant to another on water droplets that splash from one plant to another. Clean tools are another important factor. Always clean your tools after using them to avoid transferring pathogens from one plant to another.
A vibrant hybrid orchid, Honey Butter flaunts striking yellow blooms.
Miltonidium Pacific Paragon ‘Honey Butter’
Bright, indirect light
This cheery hybrid is a cross between a Miltonia and an Oncidium, two similar genera of orchids. It has delicate yellow blooms with lots of flair.
The petals and sepals are deeper yellow and freckled with orange, as is the paler-colored labellum. As with most Miltonia orchids, the labellum is large and conspicuous.
This flower boasts cream to yellow petals with deep purple patterns.
Miltonia Dee Fujitake ‘Kaley Cat’
Bright, indirect light
This unique Miltonia orchid has a striking color combination. The uniform petals and sepals are cream to yellow and heavily patterned in deep purple.
The labellum is bright violet and texture with a slight ripple toward the center of the flower. These pretty orchids are fragrant as well.
This Miltonia variety boasts deep purple flowers with shiny, star-shaped petals.
Miltonia spectabilis var. moreliana
Bright, indirect light
‘Romeo’ is a stunning, fragrant variety of Miltonia. It has long, upright, flat leaves and beautiful, deep purple flowers. The petals and sepals of these royal-hued blooms are deep plum and shiny, standing with their star shape.
The labellum is large and eye-catching. It is a paler shade of lavender, with the deep plum of the petals forming fine veins throughout. These impressive blooms smell a bit spicy, like black licorice.
A low-light variety, Kayasimae is capable of producing multiple flowers per stem.
This interesting Miltonia orchid is a low-light variety. It grows at high elevations and can survive in near complete shade. The petals and sepals are yellow with deep burgundy markings.
The labellum is strikingly different, as it is bright white with purple markings just toward the anther cap. The stems can produce as many as six flowers each.
Frequently Asked Questions
No, these are two separate, although similar, genera of orchids. The Miltoniopsis more closely resembles a pansy, while the Miltonia has a more classic orchid appearance.
No, all parts of an orchid plant are edible and considered safe and non-toxic for animal or human consumption.
This is often a sign of fungal infection or severe underwatering. If the leaves in question are the oldest leaves on the plant, the most likely explanation is that the leaves have run their course and are dying.
Miltonia orchids make great houseplants and are good starter orchids due to their ease of care and moderately fast growth rate. Their beautiful and fragrant flowers are long-lasting and reliable. Keep your Miltonia orchid well-watered and out of direct sunlight; you should see those stunning flowers soon.