Looking for an adorable, no-fuss houseplant with beautiful foliage, an easy disposition, and cute-as-a-button flowers? Look no further than the jewel orchid! Also known as the Ludisia orchid, these little gems are quickly becoming a popular choice for growing in terrariums and on windowsills. Unlike other orchids that grow in trees, jewel orchids are terrestrial orchids that grow in the soil under the shade of the tropical forest. In this article, you’ll learn all about jewel orchid care and why you should consider adding one (or more!) of these cuties to your collection.
Meet the jewel orchid
There is so much to love about this plant. Treasured for its velvety foliage that ranges from bronze to black in color with white to maroon-colored veins, jewel orchids have a very unique appearance. The colorful leaves are soft and suede-like to the touch and are not nearly as large as some other types of orchids. The genus Ludisia contains just one species, and the jewel orchid is it (Ludisia discolor). It is also sometimes called the tiger orchid or the golden lace orchid.
The stems of jewel orchids are actually pseudobulbs, which makes them super easy to propagate (more on that process later in the article). These stems creep along the ground, spreading the plant by rooting into the leaf litter as they go. They are native to Southeast Asia where they are found in the deep shade of the tropical understory, but they are grown all over the world as a houseplant. The jewel orchid is hardy outdoors only where winter temperatures remain well above freezing, so if you live in a tropical climate, try growing it outside, perhaps as a ground cover beneath a large shade tree.
Jewel orchid flowers
When grown indoors as a houseplant, jewel orchid plants typically bloom in winter, anytime from December through March. However, it is possible that the plant may develop a flower spike at other times as well.
The blooms are tiny and white with a faint yellow lip. They are produced by the dozens on spikes that protrude above the foliage. Each flower stalk is in bloom for several weeks and produces a faint, pleasant fragrance. The foliage is only a few inches tall, with the flowers above them reaching 4 to 10 inches in height. Even when this plant is not in bloom, it is well worth growing because of the fabulous and colorful foliage. Each different plant seems to have its own combination of leaf and vein colors, making them all the more striking.
The best light levels for proper jewel orchid care
Another trait that makes the jewel orchid appealing is its tolerance of low light. Since it evolved as an understory plant where taller plants provided constant shade, it thrives in low light without issue. A north-facing window is ideal in the northern hemisphere. Be sure to keep it out of direct sunlight or it will suffer.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that the plant will live with no light at all. It does require a few hours of indirect light per day.
How to water Ludisia discolor
In their native habitat, jewel orchids reside in damp leaf litter in environments where it is humid and soil moisture is very consistent. As a result, maintaining the proper level of soil moisture is one of the keys to jewel orchid care. Water the plant regularly and make sure it never gets bone dry. Your finger and the weight of the pot will tell you when it’s time to water. Once every week to 10 days, move the pot into the sink and run tepid water through it, thoroughly soaking the potting mix. Let it fully drain and then return the pot to its usual site.
If the pot is displayed on a saucer or inside a decorative cachepot, do not let water stand inside of it. Empty the saucer after watering or root rot could be the result.
What type of soil is best for jewel orchid care
Unlike epiphytic orchid species that grow in trees (phalaenopsis or cattleya, for example), jewel orchids should not be planted in orchid bark or any other loose, large-particled substrate. Instead, choose a potting medium made from peat moss and perlite with good aeration. If you’d like, you can add some leaf compost or long-fiber sphagnum moss to the mix to mimic the decomposing leaf litter found in the soils of its native habitat. Don’t add too much though, or it could hold too much moisture and cause rot. Use 1 cup of leaf compost or sphagnum for every 4 cups of potting soil.
Jewel orchid fertilizer
To keep the plant happy and healthy, and to support the production of flower spikes when the time is right, fertilizer is another important part of jewel orchid care, though it is not as critical as it is with other orchid species. Whether your plant has green leaves or black leaves, providing the right nutrients is important.
I recommend using an orchid-specific granular or liquid orchid fertilizer every 6 to 8 weeks from spring through fall. If you can’t find an orchid-specific fertilizer, use one formulated for houseplants. Do not fertilize in the winter, regardless of whether or not the plant is in bloom. During the winter months, your jewel orchid is not actively growing and does not need the extra nutrition.
Do jewel orchids need high humidity?
Thinking again about the native habitat of a jewel orchid, it’s easy to see why the right humidity level is an important part of jewel orchid care. Thankfully, much the same as fertilizer, jewel orchids are not as fussy about humidity levels as some other orchid species. That being said, they do prefer higher humidity levels, but the plant isn’t going to keel over if it isn’t perfect.
If you water the plant properly, maintaining high humidity is less important. However, to easily raise the humidity level around your jewel orchid plants, place the pot on a pebble tray filled with water (just be sure the bottom of the pot is sitting above the water level, not below it). You can also use a cool-mist humidifier near the plants every few days.
Another easy way to provide jewel orchid care that ensures high humidity levels is to grow the plants in terrariums. The closed environment of a glass terrarium translates to increased humidity levels. Plus, jewel orchids look really cool growing in them!
Every few years you may find your jewel orchid has outgrown its pot. When this happens, it’s time for repotting. Choose a container with a drainage hole that is about one to two inches wider in diameter than the previous pot. Follow the guidelines found above regarding which type of potting soil to use when repotting a jewel orchid (remember: it’s not orchid bark). The plant should slip easily out of the old pot and into the new. Keep the top of the soil at the same level. Do not bury the plant any more deeply or shallowly than it was in its previous pot.
Is propagation a necessary part of jewel orchid care?
While propagation isn’t technically a necessary part of jewel orchid care, it is fun to make new plants to share with friends and family. Thankfully Ludisia discolor is incredibly easy to propagate. To make new plants, simply take stem cuttings by cutting off a piece of a stem and sticking it into a jar of water or a pot filled with potting soil or long-fiber sphagnum peat. Place it in a north-facing window and roots will form within a few weeks. There’s no need dip the stem in rooting hormone or otherwise fuss over it. Propagating jewel orchids is as simple as it gets.
More tips on growing Ludisia discolor
- Do not place your jewel orchid near a forced heat air register. It will dry the plant out too quickly.
- Keep the pot away from cold drafts. 50°F is the lowest temperature you should expose the plant to.
- Don’t be afraid to move the pot outdoors for the summer. Put it in a shady spot beneath a tree and keep it regularly watered, especially during hot weather. Don’t forget to bring it back inside when fall temperatures cool.
- Few pests bother jewel orchids but mealybugs may occasionally strike. Use a cotton swab soaked in rubbing alcohol to wipe the insects from the plants carefully. Yes, it takes a bit of time, but it is very effective.
- Some growers opt to cut off the flower stems when they develop because they much prefer the unique foliage to the blooms. If you choose to do this too, use a clean, sharp scissors to trim off the flower stalk when it starts to emerge.
I hope you’ll take a chance and grow one of these adorable orchids yourself. Even when they are not in bloom, the foliage alone makes it a worthy addition to your houseplant family. The soft leaves are reminiscent of stained glass in their varied patterns and coloration. It is a true gem of the plant world!
For more great houseplant-growing advice, please visit the following articles:
- How to repot a phalaenopsis orchid
- Plumosa ferns
- The rex begonia vine
- Growing string of dolphins plant
- Pilea peperomiodes care