Archive for the ‘Orchids’ Category

Miltonia spectabilis vs. Miltonia moreliana. Which is which?   Leave a comment

In a recent Facebook discussion, this flower was presented and the owner asked the audience to identify it.   The flower, a large purple Miltonia, could potentially be Miltonia spectabilis, Miltonia moreliana, or a hybrid containing genes from either of these two species.

A plant that I received as Miltonia moreliana, and very similar to the plant in question. Is it really moreliana?

A plant that I received as Miltonia moreliana, and very similar to the plant in question. Is it really moreliana?

Here is a link to Eric Lu’s Purple Miltonia

I thought that I would write a short discussion of these two species and talk about them in relation to this plant, so that I could keep from writing this over and over again, as is the nature of online discussions.

From the original description of Miltonia moreliana, in 1857.

From the original description of Miltonia moreliana, in 1857.

Miltonia spectabilis and Miltonia moreliana are both widely grown, widely used in hybridizing, and widely misunderstood and misidentified in collections.  The confusion occurs for several reasons: both are from Brazil, both are from the genus Miltonia and are very similar morphologically, and moreliana until recently was considered a variety of spectabilis.

Miltonia spectabilis, from Edward's Botanical Register (1815-1847)

Miltonia spectabilis, from Edward’s Botanical Register (1815-1847)

Miltonia spectabilis was described by Lindley in 1837, and used as the type for the entire genus (a “type” plant is typically the first one described of that genus, and used by taxonomists as a standard by which all other members of that genus are included).  But there is another population of plants, similar to spectabilis but significantly different enough to garner its own varietal name. (A variety of a species must be actually scientifically documented and published before it can be used, and then is referred to with the abbreviation var. If a form of a species has not been described as per these rules, it is referred to a “forma” which is abbreviated fma.) This population of plants was described in 1867 by Warner and given the name moreliana.  Interestingly, Warner himself considered this to be a separate species, although it was considered a variety by everyone else.

In 2002, another paper was published investigating these two flowers.  The paper, entitled A Morphometric Analysis of Floral Characters in Milt. spectabilis and Milt. spectabilis var. moreliana (Carlini-Garcia, van den Berg, & Martin), uses the measurements of the flowers and the flower parts to try and establish the final word on whether these two populations are varieties of each other or true species.  The paper is located on the web, at this link: spectabilis v. moreliana Paper.

Milt. moreliana 'Everglades'

Milt. moreliana ‘Everglades’

For those of you who don’t want to read it, I will provide a synopsis.  Multiple flowers from wild populations of these two flowers were collected and then measured in about as many different ways as one can measure.  The flowers themselves, and each individual part of the flower, were measured and the final measurements compared statistically between the two groups to determine if there actually was a discernible difference.  The upshot is that these two plants produce flowers that are indeed different enough to change Miltonia spectabilis var. moreliana into simply Miltonia moreliana, giving it the status of a full species.

So what are the differences between these two species?  How can the average grower determine what is growing in his greenhouse?

Miltonia spectabilis fma. alba, a tetraploid clone from Everglades Orchids.

Miltonia spectabilis fma. alba, a tetraploid clone from Everglades Orchids.

There are some differences between these two species that are not immediately apparent.  The ranges of each species are significantly different, with moreliana occurring north of the range of spectabilis, and possibly stretching all the way to Venezuela through the interior of Brazil.  Also, the times of peak blooming differ.  As I have observed, spectabilis always blooms earlier than moreliana, in the early summer or even late spring.  Milt. moreliana blooms later, in the late summer and early fall.  There is some overlap between these times, so it cannot be used to rule out one from the other.

But let’s look at the similarities.  The plants themselves are short, with a vigorous and rambling appearance thanks to the relatively long inter-nodal distance (the distance between bulbs).  Both of these species have small, flattened pseudobulbs, from which arise two sets of leaves with multiple enlarged bracts at the base of the bulbs.  The roots are thin and fine, as in all Miltonia species, an adaptation to their epiphytic habitat and a clue as to how to grow them (lots of water/humidity with excellent air-movement).  Both produce short inflorescense with a terminal presentation of the flowers.  Last, both species tend to present flowers sequentially, with only a single flower open at a time.  In some plants that I have seen, more than one flower may be technically open but this is a small period of overlap between the first flower dehiscing (falling off) and the second flower opening.  Milt. spectabilis may have two or more flower buds developing while the first flower is open, and moreliana tends to have only two flowers/buds total (again with only one open at a time).

Milt. moreliana 'Monarch'

Milt. moreliana ‘Monarch’

The size of the segments is distinctly different between the two species.  The most obvious difference is the size of the lip, with moreliana having a lip that is basically round, with a ratio between length and breadth that is about 1:1.  Milt. spectabilis’ lip is longer than wide, with a ratio of 1.5:1.  In general, the sepals and petals tend to be wider in moreliana, with a width of 1.5-2 cm, vs. 1-2 cm in spectabilis.  These characteristics give moreliana a stockier, broader appearance than spectabilis.  Also, spectabilis presents its flowers on a slightly longer peduncle (that part of the stem that includes both the stem and ovary) but again there is significant overlap.

Milt. Danny Denton 'Everglades', an advanced hybrid that looks almost identical to moreliana.

Milt. Danny Denton ‘Everglades’, an advanced hybrid that looks almost identical to moreliana.

All of this makes it seem as though identification of these two species can be confusing.  Statistically the measurements of flower parts of the entire species as a whole do not overlap, but between individuals this overlap can prove frustrating.  However, there is one specific difference between these two species that no one seems to talk about, despite the fact that it is the most obvious of all floral characteristics: color.  Yes, the difference between the two species can be narrowed down to a single dramatic difference.  Milt. moreliana is purple, and spectabilis isn’t.  Milt. spectabilis presents in three forms: white, white with a colored lip, or pale pink/rose.  But they are never purple.

I was confused about this, because I have never seen it recorded or written anywhere, scientific journal or otherwise.  My suspicions about this color difference have existed since I was shown my first true spectabilis, which was pink.  Next to it was a true moreliana, which was purple.  The difference in the sizes of the floral parts was quite distinct when the species were viewed side by side.  Since then, I have searched in vain for a white moreliana, and for a purple spectabilis.  I have not seen any.  But this kind of observation is completely subjective.  What if there actually was a purple spectabilis or a white moreliana, and I just hadn’t seen it yet?

My confusion became complete understanding when I re-read the van den Berg paper.  This time through, I read every word, including a small part that I had missed.  At the end of the paper, according to their final analysis, the authors have provided a key.  A key is essentially a step by step instruction on how to identify a plant sitting in front of you using whatever characteristics the author of the key feels is important, and identification keys are succinct and complete in the smallest detail.  At the end of each description of each species is the simple information about color that I missed the first time around.  “Petals and sepals white or light pink……..spectabilis” and “petals and sepals purple……..moreliana.”  I have yet to see any proof able to refute this idea.

Miltonia spectabilis fma. rosea, Everglades Orchids

Miltonia spectabilis fma. rosea, Everglades Orchids

I believe that the great majority of confusion about these two species has arisen in part due to the Happy Hybridizer, who assumes that since these two forms are the same species, and that interbreeding them and calling whatever results a Miltonia spectabilis is appropriate.  There is no name for the Milt. spectabilis x moreliana hybrid.   And despite the plethora of purple Miltonia hybrids that exist, not a single one lists Milt. moreliana as a parent.  What we now have is this frustrating population of plants that have been passed down from grower to grower, and used extensively in hybridizing, but are essentially misnamed and quite likely have genes from both of these species.

Milt. Woodlawn Ruby 'Woodlands', an advanced Miltonia hybrid with no mention of moreliana as an ancestor.

Milt. Woodlawn Ruby ‘Woodlands’, an advanced Miltonia hybrid with no mention of moreliana as an ancestor.

So, back to the plant at hand.  What is it?  I would like to be able to say that I know for certain.  I would like to be able to say it is moreliana.  There is some good evidence for this.  The flower’s measurements (ratios only, mind you) are within the range for moreliana.  The lip is a bit long, but again the ratios fall within those calculated from the measurements presented in the paper.  I think in the end the best that I can say about this flower is that to me, it looks like it could be moreliana.  And if it isn’t moreliana, then it is a hybrid.  Again, I have never seen a purple spectabilis, because there is no such thing.  And there you have it, I have answered the question completely and thoroughly, and still we don’t know what the answer is.  Welcom to the wonderful world of orchid taxonomy!


Posted September 7, 2015 by brianmonk in AOS Orchid Awards, Orchid Photography, Orchids

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?


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.


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.

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

Florida Caribbean Judging Awards Photos, November 17   Leave a comment

Thanks to Greg Allikas for thinking of me as a temporary replacement during his absence, I had the pleasure of taking the awards photos at FCJC on November 17th!  The Jean E. Monnier was especially dramatic, and the judges thought so too:  an FCC of 90 points!!

The Wolterae is a personal plant, given to me by Milton Carpenter.

Posted November 21, 2012 by brianmonk in AOS Orchid Awards, Orchid Photography, Orchids

South Florida Orchid Society Awards Photos – October 2012   Leave a comment



Here are the photos of the award winners from the South Florida Orchid Society Show that took place on October 5th.  The Catasetum photo was selected by the AOS as a “photo of the week!”

Posted November 21, 2012 by brianmonk in AOS Orchid Awards, Orchid Photography, Orchids

2012 Jacksonville Orchid Society Awards Photos – A problematic Photoshop glitch kept me from publishing them, but here they are!   Leave a comment

Milt. warscewiczii x Odcdm. Blackata

Paph. lowii x Paph. parishii

The CCM photo of the same plant as above.

Lc. Golddigger x Ctna. Why Not
The flower photo of the CCE plant.

Cattleya harrisoniana v. coerulea   1 comment

Cattleya harrisoniana is one of my favorite orchids.  It was described in 1836  by John Bateman and Lindley, in Volume 22 of Edward’s Botanical Registry (which began publication of its ?# of volumes in 1829), and named after Mrs. Arnold Harrison, an avid orchidist of her day and honored with the names of several other species such as Bifrenaria harrisoniae.

Linden argued for the species C. harrisoniana being subsumed into C. loddigesii as a variety in 1887 in Lindenia, Vol.15, 1899 – 1900, t.682, pp 744-746, as he considered the one a simply a subspecies of the other:  With a series of specimens I am unable to separate C. Harrisoniana (an earlier name than Harrisoniae) [from C. loddigesii], except as a variety.  Whether his refutation was truly heeded I cannot determine, as C. harrisoniana continued to be considered a species.  The confusion between the two was immediately addressed that same year in the  Gardeners’ Chronicle, disputing Linden’s work.  C. harrisoniana has been described repeatedly since as a “good” species, including the first formal description of the alba form of harrisoniana in 2004 ((Beer) F.Barros & J.A.N.Bat., Orquidologia Sul-Amer.: 101 (2004)).  In general, it is accepted that C. harrisoniana blooms in the summer months from green sheaths.  There  are several other floral differences, but I will save those for a later discussion.

The “blue” form of C. loddigesii has been awarded 4 times, but at least two of those awards have gone to what are obviously C. harrisoniana or introgrades of that species.  Direct inspection of flowers of ‘Blue Sky’ reveal a flower with heavier substance and a greater number of flowers than C. loddigesii.  The plant blooms from a green sheath, typically in the summer months.  In fact, ‘Blue Sky’ won an AM/AOS (80 points) in May of 1987, long after loddigesii has finished blooming.  Selfings of ‘Blue Sky’ are very similar to the parent, often having better form and occasional punctate markings.  Like their parent (and all other harrisoniana clones), they bloom in the summer months.

Two other clones have won awards fromthe AOS.  ‘Isa’ was awarded twice, receiving a AM/AOS (88 pts)  in March 1997, znd upgraded to an FCC/AOS (91 pts) again in March of 1998.  I have no idea of the provenance of ‘Isa’, and have never had the privelege of examining a flower of this clone.  However, the timing of the blooming (March) is in between both loddigesii and harrisoniana.  In and of itself, this timing does not rule out either species.  The plant was awarded in Costa Rica, and differing cultural conditions can affect a plant’s blooming cycle .  The timing does suggest to me possible introgression between both species, and possibly even intermedia!   I am also not famailiar with the provenence of the clone ‘Kyleidoscopy’, which received its AM/AOS (85 pts) under the culture of Kyle Saunders in July of 2007.  This blooming date strongly places the plant into the camp of C. harrisoniana.

The quest for the true blue Cattleya will never be achieved, but some flowers definitely approach purple!  Coerulea forms of C.harrisoniana have been used  in creating a small number of other coerulea hybrids, and their coerulea genetics seem compatible with both the labiate and bifoliate Cattleya species.  Most of these are F1 hybrids, and unfortunately have not been used to any great degree in further breeding.  However, harrisoniana contributes excellent carriage, flower count, and substance to its offspring, as well as a degree of flatness, and so should probebly be used more often.  The most common coerulea harrisoniana hybrids are Heathii (loddigesii x walkeriana), and Minerva (loddigesii x bowringiana).  I believe that a tetraploid coerulea Dubiosa (trianaei x harrisoniana) would open many doors for the hybridist interested in blues.

Posted July 10, 2012 by brianmonk in Orchids

Cattleya Horace   1 comment

Cattleya Horace

Photo by Gene Crocker, Carter & Holmes ORchids, courtesy of OrchidWiz

Registered  in 1938 by Flandria Orchids in Belgium, this plant has become iconic in the world of Cattleya hybridizing.  It is a prolific parent, with over 219 direct F1 offspring, and over 1000 progeny.    However, it’s tremendous influence on modern Cattleyas  would only come to light after it was transported to Stewarts Orchids of California, and “discovered” almost 15 years later!

A hybrid of  C. trianaei and  C. Woltersiana, Horace’s incredible usefulness as a parent is the amazing influence it has over shape and flower size, while still allowing colors other than lavender to be expressed.  The secret of this extraordinary ability stems from the C. trianaei parent.  This species has some very shapely clones, but seems to be very recessive when it comes to color.  The magical and mysterious genetic melting pot that is orchid hybridizing has produced a spectacular flower that combines the shape and size of a fantastic modern Cattleya with the color-recessive nature of C. trianaei.  Not only has this allowed the hybridizer to create some fantastically colored flowers and advance form and shape, but to do so with some certainty of the outcome (a very rare thing in orchid hybridizing).  Izt is not without its drawbacks, however.  Horace tends to pass on a thin substance, which translates into shorter lasting flowers in some instances.  Some hybridizers comment that the offspring of Horace share a certain “sameness” and are somewhat boring as a consequence (“Seen one, seen ’em all” syndrome}.  Lastly, those searching for yellow and art-shade offspring find that only a small percentage of Horace’s offspring will actually demonstrate these colors.

The color forms produced with C. Horace range from pinks to lavenders to yellows and to art shade pastels, and even semi-albas have been produced (white with a colored lip).

Among the best known of C. Horace’s offspring is C. Goldenzelle, a fine art shade Cattleya with clones ranging from hot lavender-pink to bright and clear yellow.   Alone, this hybrid has received 24 flower quality awards from the AOS, from 75-85 points.  The cross has received 36 awards from the worldwide orchid community at large.

And with over 207 progeny already into the 3rd generation, this hybrid is now cemented into the collective conscience of the orchid world.

C. Goldenzelle ‘Frank Smith’ copyright Brian Monk, 2010

Blc. Heather’s Gold ‘Rosy Cheeks’ AM/AOS – A hybrid between Goldenzelle and Heather Kiawat, copyright Brian Monk, 2008

Other exceptional offspring of C. Horace include C. Melody Fair, a wonderful semi-alba that is arguably the most influential parent of this line since its parent, Stephen Oliver Fouraker; and C.  Drumbeat, which has 174  direct offspring and has influenced Cattleya breeding to 4 generations removed.

Lc. Melody Fair ‘Sun #2’, photo & plant Mauro Rosim, courtesy of OrchidWiz

Blc. Drumbeat ‘Heritage’ HCC/AOS, photo Jim Connell, courtesy OrchidWiz