Over the years, I’ve tried to grow orchids but never had any success at all. However, with the move to our “new” house, the situation seems to have changed for the better. Our heating system is in-floor radiant and the heat is very even, without drafts or fumes. In our last house, we had an airtight fireplace and burned about three cords of wood every winter. Perhaps orchids don’t like smoke?
Last spring, I purchased an orchid (another grocery store find). It was labelled “Miltonia orchid” and it was in full, glorious bloom. The label went on to say that “Miltonias are cool growing South American orchids that produce large, beautiful, brightly colored flowers that resemble a pansy.” I was instructed to keep the plant evenly moist, never allowing the potting mix to become completely dry.
The resemblance to pansies was clear, but when I looked up Miltonia in my encyclopedia of garden plants, the photos I found looked nothing like my orchid. Luckily, on the very same page was an entry for Miltoniopsis (Pansy orchid), together with a photo of Miltoniopsis Robert Strauss ‘Ardingly,’ and this photo looked exactly like my orchid. So, what had happened here? Was there a mixup of labels at the nursery? Or, were the names interchangeable–you say “Miltonia,” I say “Miltoniopsis”?
I found the answer on the Robert Bedard Horticulture website:
The genus Miltoniopsis, a member of the subtribe Oncidiinae of the orchid family, is comprised of six species and their various forms. In 1837 John Lindley, a distinguished English botanist and orchidologist, established the Miltonia genus based on the warm growing Brazilian species spectabilis (Lindl.), and dedicated it to the Earl Fitzwilliam, Viscount Milton (1786-1857).
In the years that followed many species of different genera, including the species of the genus Miltoniopsis, were lumped into the Miltonia genus. In 1889 Godefroy-Lebeuf recognized that the Columbian type species was structurally different from the Brazilian type species and established the genus Miltoniopsis. The suffix –opsis is a Greek derivative implying relationship to Miltonia. However, the acceptance of the generic name Miltoniopsis by orchidologists, orchidists and commercial growers was stubbornly resisted for years. . . .Today the name Miltoniopsis is accepted by just about all orchidologists, orchidists and commercial growers.
Though the genus name Miltoniopsis is botanically correct, The Royal Horticultural Society has retained the name Miltonia for registration purposes.
To my great delight, the Miltonia bloomed again this year, leading me to believe that my pansy orchid is perfectly happy in my home. However, when I was looking for the answer to the Miltonia/Miltoniopsis question, I came across this warning:
[Miltoniopsis orchids] need less [water] while resting but should not dry out completely; in dry conditions, the leaves develop transverse concertina-like folds.
—The New Encyclopedia of Orchids by Isobyl la Croix
Ah ha! You can see these “transverse concertina-like folds” in the photograph above and in my painting below. So, while I am very happy with my Miltoniopsis, it’s likely that my Miltoniopsis is not very happy with me.
In the Language of Flowers, an orchid may stand for love, beauty, refinement or thoughtfulness. It is a Chinese symbol for “many children”. A pansy may stand for merriment or thoughts (you occupy my thoughts).
An orchid that was given to me last year, a mini-Phalaenopsis, also bloomed again this year. The charming common name for this plant is “teacup orchid”.