Briazilian Miltonias – Some Like It Hot!   Leave a comment

What are these Brazilian Miltonias of which you speak?!?!? Why Brazilian?  Do they speak Portuguese? Do they practice their own kind of jujitsu, drink caprahinas, and wear glittery alien costumes for a few days in February?

NO!!!Royal-Flush

They are more aptly simply called Miltonias, and they happen to be native to Brazil, particularly the southeastern region.  So why am I calling them “Brazilian” Miltonias, when you just said they were Miltonias?  Well there is a bit of confusion here, evident even amongst the most experienced orchid growers (who should know better).  You see, there is another group of plants from the Oncidium alliance that also used to be Miltonias. 

Mitoniopsis roezlii

Mitoniopsis roezlii

These are the Pansy Orchids, beautiful orchids of white, pink, and burgundy tones that grow in the high mountains of Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, and Panama.   This group of 4-6 species was separated into their own genus, Miltoniopsis, in 1889.  We as growers have had over 120 years to catch up, but some of us just aren’t there yet.  Never the less, the genus Miltoniopsis is considered its own particular group, of which Miltonias do not belong. 

This division is all particularly helpful to us as growers, because even though the anatomical and taxonomic differences between these two genera are esoteric and sometimes difficult to understand, their growing conditions couldn’t be more different.  Miltoniopsis come from high-altitude conditions, where the day time temperatures are generally always below 80F, and the night time temperatures rarely rise above the mid-60’s.  This is the definition of a cool growing orchid.  While some would consider these intermediate conditions, and a few folks even manage to grow these plants in much higher temperatures, the fact is that Miltoniopsis perform best at the low end of their temperature range, and generally melt when exposed to south Florida temperatures. 

But Miltonias will grow in the heat, and grow well.  Anyone in an area that experiences temperatures over 80 during the day, and rarely under 70 at night will be able to grow these plants.  (They will also grow well for the rest of you, but since I can’t grow your Odontoglossums, you don’t count.)clowesiiRodco

 

But heat-tolerance isn’t the only reason they are worth growing!  These plants ridiculously easy to grow, and will produce large plants with huge numbers of flowers in only a few seasons.  They are the definition of a beginner plant – one which is forgiving of most mistakes and extremes, and bounces back easily from all but the very worst transgressions. 

However, Miltonias do have a certain set of conditions under which they perform optimally, and if they were said to be picky, it would be these things which they prefer:

  • They like a morning shower. Miltonias prefer to be watered early in the day.
  • They don’t like wet feet. Miltonias prefer to be dry by nightfall.
  • They are sunbathers. Miltonias prefer light in the Cattleya to Vanda range.

Binotii-x-MatGrosThese things are also important:

  • They can be rambling space-hogs. Miltonias have long intermodal distances and they grow FAST. Well-grown plants will double the number of new leads every year.
  • Yellow leaves are not a sign of an unhealthy plant. However, they are the sign of a Magnesium insufficiency.  High light levels destroy chlorophyll, and plants need Magnesium to make more.  Watering with Epsom salts at 1 tablespoon/gallon 2-3 times a growing season prevents this, as does topdressing with pelletized dolomitic lime.

 

Given these ideas, I generally like to grow Miltonias in one of three ways:

  • I use shallow clay pots like azalea pots, and even then only use about half the depth of the pot.  Miltonia roots are fine and short, and don’t require a deep substrate.  Planting this way also gives more room for the plant to grow into, and I will often times use a 10 inch pot to give the plants another 1-2 growing seasons undisturbed.  I use a media of at least half inorganic/half organic; specifically I use LECA and New Zealand bark.  I use a “medium” grade.

    Potted up in a clay azalea pot.

    Potted up in a clay azalea pot.

 

  • I mount my Miltonias exclusively on tree fern slabs or poles.  I prefer slabs, and after I secure the plant I simply lay the slab flat.  Tree fern is wonderful stuff, it wets easily and drains well, and Miltonias seem to like it above all other substrates.

    Mounted on a tree fern slab.

    Mounted on a tree fern slab.

 

 

  • Hybrid Pot-Mount. I hate to repot.  It is time consuming, and I love nothing better that to do it tomorrow.  So I started using tree fern pots!!  I will mount the plant directly to the hole in the tree fern pot.  Occasionally I will add some media.  Then I just stand back and prepare for the day that I will “repot” this plant with a chain saw and four more pieces of tree fern.

    HonRuby1 a

    Miltonia Hololulu Ruby ‘#1’ potted in/on a tree fern pot.

 

It is harder to dry a plant out than get it wet, and air movement is extremely important for Miltonias.  As I said before, Miltonias like to dry out after being watered.  I hang some of my plants up, but my potting choices generally result in a plant that needs watering every 2 days during the growing season and every 3-4 days in the winter.WoodlawnRubyWoodlands

The plants produce their new leads in the spring (About April for me), and this is the time to repot them, especially before they form new roots.  The fine nature of the new roots makes them easily damaged.  Plants must be firmly attached to their new growing surface, and even the slightest repetitive movement will cause the root tips to die when they rub across the substrate.  I apply a pelletized, slow-release fertilizer in the spring (Nutricote) and increase my injected fertilizer’s Nitrogen percentage to increase the available nutrition coincidentally with new growths. They will survive and even bloom, but they do their best when they have all of their roots (duh).  New growths emerge as layers and layers of gradually enlarging bracts, and finally the last 2-4 leaves are positioned upon a flattened, spindle-shaped pseudobulb that could pass for a prehistoric flint arrowhead.  The bracts become dried brown sheaths over the growth that can hide mealy bugs.  Miltonias shed their leaves from old growth, and this will happen all year round.  Again, this is not a sign of disease, but exceptional growers will have more success keeping older plants fully leafed out.  Inflorescences appear from the base of the pseudobulbs, and come up inside of the bracts.  Some species will bloom earlier in the year (late April-May), but the blooming season for most is late July through August, and occasionally into September.  Thus they tend to be in bloom when little else is, and are a well-appreciated flower in the doldrums of summer.  After blooming, the plants take a rest.  They may produce a very occasional new growth, but the show is over until next spring.  Not that they need any less attention; wet winter conditions allow for rot, and dry air promotes mites which find the thin leaves particularly appetizing.  A balanced fertilizer with Calcium and Magnesium is kept at a dose of 200 ppm in the winter.

GodaleMoirGoldenWonder

The flowers of Miltonias occur in shades of purple, yellow, and white, with watermarks on the petals and sepals, and waterfalls on the lips.  They can flower singly, or as branches of multiple flowers all open at once.  Lastly, they have been heavily hybridized with other members of the Oncidiinae, and a tremendous number of intergeneric combinations have been made with flowers that cover the spectrum of color and shape.  If you don’t have one in your collection, you need to change that.

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Posted August 6, 2015 by brianmonk in Orchid Photography, Orchids

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