Miltonias are popular plants producing spectacular and attractive flowers. The species and their hybrids are found
to a greater or lesser extent in all diverse collections of orchids. The commonly accepted aggregation of plants
has, however, been investigated by plant botanists, with the result that there have been a number of relatively
recent name changes. The name changes suggested for some orchids are often largely academic to the amateur, but
in this instance do appear to give a practical division, recognising natural habitat and cultural distinctions
already largely understood by those growing these plants.
The genus Miltonia was established in Lindley in 1837 and was named in honour of Viscount Milton, later Earl
Fitzwilliam. Sweet comments in his article that there are some 60 specific names noted, including 8 known natural
hybrids, assigned to the genus, most of which, however, are only synonyms, or are incorrectly placed in the genus,
Up to 1975 there were over 500 registered artificial hybrids listed in the Sanders List of Orchid Hybrids.
The genus Miltonia was based on the Brazilian species M. spectabilis. The particular structure of that plant determines
the characteristics of the genus. Recent studies have concluded that few species qualify for inclusion in the genus,
when measured against this benchmark.
It is interesting to note that the valid description of the plants commonly included under Miltonias appear to
have been a problem since the first written descriptions were completed. The same plant at various times has also
been included under Brassias, Odontoglossums and Oncidiums, as well as some being placed In lesser known genera.
As noted by Hawkes in his Encyclopaedia of Cultivated Orchids, Miltonias are closely related to the three genera
noted above "from which groups its components differ in often rather tenuous technical floral characters."
The free way all these genera are able to interbreed confirms their close affinity.
When most people talk about Miltonias, the immediate mental image is usually of the so-called "pansy orchids",
these being native of the Andes. Even in 1889, botanists such as Godefroy-Lebeuf had recognised that these cool-growing
"pansy" type Miltonias were both Vegetatively and as well culturally different from the warm growing
Brazilian species such as M. spectabilis.
This problem has been discussed for many years, and was critically re-examined by Garay and Dunsterville in 1976.
They considered the distinctions between the two general groupings of plants were substantial enough to lead them
to section the genus and re-establish the genus Miltoniopsis of Godefroy-Lebeuf, for all the "pansy"
The Miltonia and Miltoniopsis species are readily distinguished.
The Brazilian Miltonia species have leaves and pseudobulbs which are always yellowish-green to honey coloured,
and have a scandent creeping rhizome. The pseudobulbs are two leaved, the flowers having a column bearing auricles,
the column having a depression in front. The column also has its sides firmly united with the nectar bearing sides
of the lip.
The Miltoniopsis plants, in contrast, have light grayish-blue-green leaves and pseudobulbs. The pseudobulbs are
clustered together, bearing one apical leaf. The flower column has no auricles, and is united with the lip through
a central keel-like ridge and is without the depression in front.