This jewel of an orchid needs little care

December 7, 2022

Henry Morley boarded the Titanic with his mistress, Kate Phillips, age 20, to sail to America and start a new life together. Morley gave a beautiful sapphire necklace, very much like the one in the movie, to Kate the night before the Titanic sank. Sadly, Morley couldn't swim, and he drowned while Kate survived. The necklace went down with the ship.

You can grow your own jewels right in your home with the jewel orchid, Macodes petola, known for its breathtaking foliage.

Unlike most orchids that are prized for their spectacular flowers, jewel orchids are grown for their stunning leaves. They are textured like velvet and sport incredible, irregular yellow veining that glows almost as if lit from within. They bloom with less-prominent white flowers during the winter or very early spring months. 

Jewel orchids grow in soil and do best in shade, so they are ideal houseplants. They are great plants to include in terrariums. These gems even grow well in bathrooms.

Because they are native to rainforest floors, they do best in shade or filtered light. Too much sunlight will bleach out their brilliant colors.

These orchids have thick roots, called rhizomes, that pop up above the soil. They are easily propagated by breaking off a piece of rhizome and rooting it directly in the soil. A quick-draining potting mix such as African violet soil is ideal.

Place your jewel orchids away from drafts, where the temperature stays even and doesn't fluctuate. You can spray them regularly with warm water to increase the humidity or place the pot on a tray lined with pebbles, then filled with water. As the water in the tray evaporates, it will release moisture into the air. 

If your apartment or house is dark, don’t worry; a simple fluorescent light will let your plant grow happily. Growing a jewel orchid plant is similar to growing begonias indoors.

Because of its shallow root system, plant your jewel orchid in a wide but shallow pot. Water when the soil feels dry. Feed your orchid once a month with commercial orchid food according to the package directions.

There are many jewel orchids available, but two main types are commonly sold. The first is the Black Jewel Orchid, which has very dark leaves with tiny white pinstripe markings. Depending upon your lighting, the maroon underside of the leaves can shine through and color the white pinstriping red. The second jewel orchid commonly found is Ludisia Discolor Alba, with medium-green leaves sporting silver stripes.

Plant an easy-to-care-for jewel orchid and soon you will have roots to break off and grow for gift plants. Recipients will appreciate this showy orchid that does well in low light and with little attention.

As a gift to a sweetheart, jewel orchids rival precious gems and will never go down with the ship.


  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.

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