Unlike most orchids, which are known for their unique flowers, Jewel orchids are prized for their beautiful, intricate leaves and easy care.
There are hundreds of varieties to collect, which, as you’ll soon see, can pose a unique problem: they’re not sold as a single genus or species, which makes identifying them very tricky.
But don’t worry, we’ll cover that, along with the most common issues we see with caring for Jewel orchids.
(We also have a section on the rarest and most beautiful varieties.)
Jewel Orchid Care Guide
History, habitat, and characteristics
The Jewel Orchid is quite an unusual plant in a few different ways. Unlike other orchids, Jewel orchid is more valued for its jewel-like leaves than the brief appearance of its flowers. And unlike other indoor plants, it’s actually not a specific genus. In fact, the term Jewel Orchid can refer to dozens of different genera (plural of genus), and hundreds of species.
So why the confusion? What’s the main genus?
Ludisia is the genus many referred to, and it was thought to contain only one species, Ludisia discolor. Pretty simple, right? Until Ludisia ravanii was discovered.
Then the popularity of indoor plants expanded pretty significantly, and due to a shortage in both of these species, many other terrestrial orchids (they grow on the ground of a forest) started being sold as Jewel Orchids. What they have in common are similar care and stunning leaves, so the confusion shouldn’t get too much in the way for us.
Ludisia discolor is native to China and Southeast Asia, with anywhere from pink-white to maroon-black pinstripe markings, depending on the variety (such as Ludisia discolor ‘Alba’ vs Ludisia discolor ‘Nigrescens’, or Black Jewel orchid).
I first discovered Jewel Orchid plants in Thailand, in an evening market. Even under the cover of darkness, these beautiful plants glinted under the street lamps. I had several shipped back home to me, and my love affair with the Jewel Orchid began as I untangled their secrets.
Jewel orchids are terrestrial plants, which means they come from the forest floor and fit perfectly into an indoor setting.
Propagating and growing them? So easy. Cure envious looks in an instant with a few stem cuttings.
The Jewel Orchid is also well known for its fragrant flowers, even if they only make a brief appearance. Depending on the season, you’ll be greeted with a bed of tiny white blossoms that bring a special charm to any home or garden.
The trickiest part in acquiring one of these tropical plants is really knowing which species and genus you actually have.
90% of the Jewel Orchid plants you see will fall into one of two categories:
L. discolor ‘Alba’ – the albino variant with bright green leaves and detailed white veins.
L. discolor ‘Nigrescens’ – or the black jewel orchid, a darker version that has black-purple leaves with pinkish markings that almost glow under light.
You may also find that you have Macodes petola, Anoectochilus roxburghii (often mislabled), Ludisia x Anoectochilus hybrids, or even Goodyera hispida. Epiphytic orchid species diversity is super high in some regions, so some countries will be more reliable shippers of Ludisia discolor than others.
A lot of the confusion comes down to these plants sporting similar foliage and being much easier to identify after a first bloom. Sellers often don’t have their plants long enough to even see them bloom, and these plants might sell out quickly, so they identify based on the foliage the best that they can (or with whichever seems like it would carry the highest price).
Let’s get into the care guide now, which fortunately will be the same for all of the plants mentioned above.
The key to keeping a Jewel orchid happy and healthy is providing the right amount of light. This can, however, be difficult to gauge. To determine the amount of light your plant is receiving, you can check a few things.
For starters, try putting your hand above the Jewel orchid and observing how much shadow is cast. A light shadow means the light is optimal for the plant and a strong dark shadow means the light is too intense, and it should be moved away from the window. If no shadow is cast, the plant may not be getting enough light.
(If you see total darkness? Well… it’s probably nighttime and you should try again during the day.)
Additionally, look for signs from the plant—if its leaves reach out towards the window, this could indicate it’s not getting enough light. You’ll also notice the stems become leggy.
Ideally, you should place your Jewel orchid near a window with bright indirect light, like the type that would make it through a rainforest canopy. If you have other plants, you can even place your Jewel orchids behind them to gently filter the light.
- Jewel orchids should be placed in a spot that receives bright, indirect light, but never directly exposed to direct sunlight
- Place the orchid at least 4 to 6 feet away from a sunny window, or in indirect light.
- Avoid light that casts a strong shadow: that’s too intense for these plants.
- If the orchid is not receiving enough light, its leaves will become elongated and spindly.
- If the orchid is receiving too much light, its leaves will lose their intricate patterns.
The next critical part of your Jewel Orchid’s care is your watering schedule. If you’ve read our articles before, you’ll know that we repeat this a lot about indoor plants: the plant will tell you exactly how much water it wants: just give it a few weeks to settle into your home and be aware of temperature fluctuations.
The key is to find the right balance that doesn’t leave it under-watered or over-watered. Too little water will cause wilting and yellowing leaves, while too much water will lead to root rot.
While calibrating with your plant, make sure to check the soil before you water it to see if it is still moist, and increase/decrease watering accordingly. Soil moisture is essential to keep track of, so use a moisture meter or a finger.
Depending on where you live, you might notice your tap water damages the leaves of this plant. Not all of us can gather rainwater for our plants (though it is fun, so I recommend it!) but filtered water works great too. You can even just leave your tap water out for a bit—many people swear by this.
Factors like air temperature and humidity, as well as the type of medium or use of a tray to water from the bottom, can affect watering frequency, so never blindly apply advice on watering to your own indoor plants.
- Ideally, water your Jewel Orchid with tepid filtered water, or rainwater.
- Determine when the plant needs to be watered by probing the soil with a finger and waiting for the top inch to be dry.
- Pour the water slowly from the top down in a single pour, avoiding getting the leaves wet, and pat them dry if they do get wet.
- Optionally: water from the bottom up occasionally by placing the potted plant on a tray of water and allowing the water to climb up to the plant’s roots. Similarly, flush the pot from the top down every so often.
- Reduce watering in winter months and be aware of signs of overwatering (yellowing leaves and root rot) and underwatering (discoloration of the leaves, wilting).
Temperature and humidity
Where Jewel orchid care can fall apart is with temperature and humidity, factors we often don’t feel like we have a lot of control over. As someone who’s been growing these beautiful tropical plants for a while, let me just tell you: it’s all about maintaining the perfect environment.
Unlike some of the tough plants you might be used to, Jewel orchids need an environment that can really keep them cozy.
When it comes to temperature, aim for warmth between 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit. Don’t worry too much, though — as long as you don’t get too carried away, a little bit warmer won’t hurt them.
As for humidity, Jewel orchids love moisture. Aim for at least 50% humidity, but over 65% and they really thrive. And if you feel like giving your Jewel orchid an extra dose of moisture, set up a pebble tray (pebbles, rocks, water) nearby or underneath your plant. This can raise the local humidity without making your room uncomfy.
Soil and planting
Finding the right potting mix for Jewel Orchids is actually pretty easy: orchid potting mix! Unlike with most house plants, you will want to re-pot every few years because a fresh potting mix will compact less and be a lot friendlier for their root structure. Root growth on the surface of the soil is a sign that your plant needs to be repotted.
If you want to make your own mix, to add some drainage and airflow, I suggest the following additions:
- Small amounts of LECA: improves soil aeration and oxygen retention.
- Perlite: helps with aeration, drainage, and moisture retention; provides some minerals as well
- Sphagnum moss
Remember, these are not epiphytes but terrestrials, so they don’t need orchid bark because they don’t create the same symbiotic relationship between the bark and root structure as other orchid species do.
Totally optional, but if you do fertilize, I’d recommend using an orchid fertilizer every 2 months, taking a break in the winter. You can dilute as needed, but really avoid fertilizing in the winter because the plant should not need the nutrients. They naturally will go dormant and store nutrients in their root systems, so you don’t want to overwhelm them or the soil.
Be sure not to over-fertilize, as it can cause excessive leaf wilting and fading.
So this is where knowing your genus and species can help a lot. The most reliable method, especially if you aren’t sure what you have, will be a stem-cutting propagation for your Jewel orchid.
Ludisia are the easiest to propagate, in my experience, but it’s possible with any variety.
You will need a cutting knife, sterile potting soil, and a small pot with drainage holes. Follow these steps to successfully propagate your Jewel orchid:
- Use a cutting knife sterilized with alcohol to cut off 8 cm of stem from the plant.
- Dip the stem cutting in rooting hormone (if desired).
- Fill the small pot with potting soil and make a hole in the center of the soil with your finger.
- Place the cut stem carefully in the hole with the leaves above the soil line.
- Gently pack soil around the cutting.
- Water the soil to keep it moist, not soggy.
- Place the pot in a spot with bright, indirect sunlight and high humidity.
- Water regularly and monitor for root growth in about a few months’ time.
- When roots have developed, transplant the cutting into a larger pot with soil for optimal growth.
Water propagation is often the fastest of the two methods, requiring no additional supplies apart from water and a propagating container. This method is ideal for experienced orchid growers who want to get their plants propagated quickly.
Sphagnum Moss Propagation
Sphagnum moss propagation involves placing the orchid node in sphagnum moss and then covering the moss with plastic wrap or a moistened plastic bag. This method gives the orchid more support and provides wonderful conditions for root growth. I find it to be more forgiving than water propagation, but not everyone has access to sphagnum moss, which is also a bit tricky to handle.
Like we say a lot, don’t fear! Common issues have common solutions, and any experienced plant mama (or papa) has seen all of the following issues. With a bit of care and attention, you’ll soon have the most magnificent and happy jewel of an orchid in your home.
Leaf drooping is a common issue with Jewel orchids, and can be an indication of insufficient water or light. If soil is dry, simply water the plant, and the leaves should perk up. If the soil is moist, provide the plant with more indirect light by moving it closer to a window or adding some artificial light.
If all the leaves are falling off, this may be completely normal! Jewel orchids can drop leaves seasonally or in low temperatures.
This usually means your Jewel orchid is getting too much direct sunlight. Try moving your plant to somewhere with indirect lighting and watch as its leaves go back to their bright and shiny selves!
Brown spots indicate a potential fungal infection. This can be caused by overwatering, so reduce the watering frequency and ensure that the soil is completely dry before watering again. Poor air circulation can also contribute to fungal disease, so make sure to open windows to increase air movement.
Leaf tips turning brown:
If you find the tips of your orchid’s leaves turning brown, it’s likely due to a lack of humidity. You can mist your plants with a spray bottle, or give them an occasional shower by placing them in a sink and using lukewarm water.
I know growing Jewel orchids was your goal, but sometimes you grow some unexpected pests along the way. So let’s cover how to easily take care of those issues.
Diseases and pests
Root Rot is the number one issue we see. If your Jewel orchid is wilted and yellow, it’s time to inspect the soil moisture and roots. If you see soft or mushy roots, you need to repot the plant and cut off the damaged roots to save it. This is almost always caused by overwatering or soil that’s not draining well.
Pests are another big issue that unfortunately affects all indoor plants. These include spider mites, mealybugs, or aphids. You’ll notice small white spots, webbing, or a strange sap.
First, isolate your Jewel Orchid from other plants. You can use a blast of cold water to dislodge any unwelcome guests. Wipe leaves down with rubbing alcohol or neem oil. Any badly infested leaves should be removed and discarded.
If you notice fungal diseases like powdery mildew it’s likely your Jewel isn’t getting enough air circulation. Increase the airflow, avoid misting it directly with water, and make sure it’s getting enough light for the amount of humidity it’s exposed to.
We hope our Jewel Orchid care guide helped answer some of the questions you had and demonstrated what a wide, beautiful variety of Jewel orchids there are. We also covered the most common Jewel orchid problems, what they need to thrive, and how to ensure their beautiful foliage stays that way.
If this article was helpful to you, feel free to share it (and a propagation) with a friend. If you have any questions or want to show off your Ludisia orchid (especially if you’re seeing any rare flower spikes or stalk), send over a few pictures!
Are Jewel Orchids real orchids?
They are! Jewel orchids (Ludisia discolor) are terrestrial orchids from Southeast Asia’s rainforests. Unlike epiphytic orchid species, they grow on the forest floor and are better known for their vivid leaves than their flowers.
Are Jewel Orchids rare?
They are not considered rare, despite the name, but they can be hard to find seasonally.
How do you take care of a black Jewel orchid?
The same as any other Jewel orchid! With less chlorophyll in the leaves, you might find they’re a bit more sensitive to window placements, but otherwise, the above Jewel Orchid Care Guide should apply.
Does a Jewel orchid bloom?
Jewel orchids do bloom, but it isn’t as common as with their flowering cousins.
Should I mist my Jewel orchid?
We suggest avoiding misting Jewel orchids because it can introduce too much moisture on the leaves and doesn’t increase humidity long-term.
What kind of soil does a Jewel orchid need?
An orchid potting mix works fine, but so does any soil that seeks to imitate this plant’s natural habitat. With whatever potting mix you decide on, consult the soil section above to make sure it’s well-draining while still retaining moisture (I know, a tricky balance). Orchid soil can become compacted, so re-pot if you notice this happening.