How to grow and care for a jewel orchid

Ludsia discolor (Jewel orchid). Getty Images

Jewel orchids (Ludisia discolor) are an unusual type of orchid, grown for their foliage rather than their flowers. Unlike other orchids, they are terrestial, growing on the ground in their native habitats.  The leaves are dark brown to crimson, and very distinctive, with golden or red veins. This orchid can produce small white flowers when mature, held on long upright stems, but these are not as impressive as their eye-catching leaves.

Jewel orchids usually flower in winter, when the temperature falls, but can bloom throughout the year. In their native habitat, in South East Asia, Ludisia discolor grows close to the ground, so it can tolerate some shade, although it won’t thrive in a spot with no natural light. A shallow, wide container will work well for your orchid as they grow by creeping rhizomes that spread outwards and therefore don’t need a deep pot for their roots.

There are many types of jewel orchid, including Mecodes petola, which is often listed as a rare plant, and the genus Anoectochilus, known as marbled jewel orchids, but many jewel orchids need high humidity or to be grown under glass, whereas Ludisia discolor is easy to grow in average humidity at home. It’s also the most widely available to buy.

How to grow jewel orchid

Ludsia discolor (black jewel orchid)

This is an easy plant to grow if you take care not to over- or under-water it. Simply place it in a spot that gets bright, indirect light or partial shade, in a room that doesn’t get too cold (below 15ºC during the growing season).

Where to grow jewel orchid

Jewel orchids will grow well in bright, indirect light but can also tolerate shade. Avoid putting this plant in direct sunlight as it will scorch the foliage. Make sure wherever you place your plant is above 15ºC and away from any draughts or radiators. Jewel orchids like humidity so a steamy bathroom or kitchen would be a good location for this plant.

How to plant jewel orchid

Plant jewel orchids in house plant compost. Repot jewel orchids once they become top heavy or unwieldy in their containers.

How to care for jewel orchid

A jewel orchid in flower. Getty Images

These orchids need moist compost, but let the top third of the compost dry out between waterings. Feed with orchid fertiliser every two to four weeks during the growing season. Avoid watering with cold water as this will give the plant a shock. Misting regularly will also help increase humidity around your plant.

If your orchids leaves are limp, it is likely to be caused by over-watering or under-watering. The leaves may be drooping because your orchid is not getting enough water. Stick your finger in the compost once a week to see how dry it is. If the top third is dry, it needs watering. Over watering can lead to root rot, so inspect the roots if you suspect this to be the problem.

How to prune jewel orchid

Remove any yellowing leaves and spent flowers. Once flowering is over, cut away the entire flowers stalk at the base using clean snips or secateurs. To make your plant bushier, pinch out the flowering spikes before flowering can take place. This will encourage your plant to produce more leaves.

How to propagate jewel orchid

The easiest way to propagate jewel orchid is by stem cuttings. As an alternative to the method below, you could also place your cutting into a jar of water until it develops good roots, and then pot into house plant compost.

1.     Cut off a piece of stem from the outer growth of the plant that’s at least 8cm long. Remove any leaves at the bottom of the cutting
2.     Place it in a small pot of house plant compost until it has rooted with a clear plastic bag (with some air holes) over the top to retain humidity. Remove the bag after a few weeks
3.     Once it outgrows its pot, repot into a larger pot

Pests and diseases

Jewel orchids can be prone to aphids, glasshouse red spider mites and mealybugs.

Look out for white waxy insects on the underside of your plant’s leaves – these could be mealybugs. Remove any affected leaves. If cases are severe you may consider spraying with an organic spray containing fatty acids.

Fine webbing on the leaves as well as mites and eggs on the undersides of leaves are likely to be red spider mite. These thive in dry environments so improve humidity by standing the pot on a try of pebbles with water up to just below the top of the pebbles, or increase misting.

To get rid of aphids (small sap sucking insects) either pick them off by hand or spray your plant with water to dislodge them.

Jewel orchids are not susceptible to many diseases but if the room is too dry, they may suffer from powdery mildew. Remove any affected leaves and improve air circulation around the plant. Try misting to increase humidity.

Advice on buying jewel orchids

  • Jewel orchids are unusual plants and it can be hard to get hold of them. It is probably easiest to find them online from specialist house plant sites
  • Always check plants for signs of damage or disease before planting

Where to buy jewel orchids

Jewel orchid varieties

Ludisia discolor var. alba
This jewel orchid has bright green leaves with white lines.

Mecodes petola ‘Lightening Green’
Give this orchid the high humidity of a bathroom or kitchen to keep it happy and enjoy its spectacular foliage.







Flower Seeds


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