Orchids are a prized addition to any garden, but what sets Ludisia discolor (loo-DIS-ee-uh DIS-kol-or) apart is the exact opposite of what you’d expect.
Commonly known as the jewel orchid, this species only blooms for a few weeks each winter but has foliage demanding attention.
Previously known by the botanical name Haemaria discolor, this terrestrial orchid species hails from southeast Asia and is one of the few members of the Orchidaceae family which does well potted indoors.
Its leaves have a dark, velvety maroon-black underside and pinstripes on the upper surface.
A few popular varieties of jewel orchid exist, thanks to the efforts of breeders.
- Ludisia Alba, which lacks the characteristic red pigmentation in favor of richer green leaves
- Ludisia Odina, which has a dark, almost black green face to its leaves
- Ludisia discolor dawsoniana, which sports larger, slightly burgundy-tinted green-black leaves with pale red veins on their face.
Numerous hybrids of Ludisia orchids are also available, being crossed with other orchids, such as Anoectochilus, Goodyera, and Macodes petola.
These hybrids are also referred to commonly as jewel orchids.
All varieties are easy to raise and are often compared to African violets when discussing care methods.
Jewel Orchid Care
Size & Growth
Ludisia discolor is an evergreen perennial going through periods of rapid growth, although the plant itself only reaches about 10” inches in height.
Its leaves have a broad, lanceolate shape and measure 2 ¾” inches long by 1 ½” inch wide.
The shoots of this herbaceous plant spread above the soil level, with leaf plates living for about seven years before fading and leaving the stems behind.
Flowering and Fragrance
Jewel orchid flowers produce a brief, yet attractive floral display each year.
They require bright (but indirect) light to bloom, and each rosette of leaves will produce its own inflorescence of creamy white flower spikes which tower as high as 24” inches.
These flowers bloom in sequence, leaving the plant in bloom for a month or more despite individual flowers not lasting very long.
Light & Temperature
A jewel orchid’s leaves are sensitive to light and will fade or suffer burns in direct sunlight.
Bright, indirect light is best, and the plant responds quite well to fluorescent lights.
12 to 14 hours of light per day is recommended for optimal health.
Low light conditions may also affect flowering, so it’s important to avoid too much shade when placing near a natural light source.
In its natural habitat, temperature fluctuations are to be expected, but you’ll want a more controlled environment when growing indoors for optimal health.
Aim to keep the plant at 60° to 65° degrees Fahrenheit (15° – 18° C) throughout the night and 75° to 80° degrees Fahrenheit (24° – 27° C) during the day.
Watering and Feeding
Being a terrestrial species, jewel orchids need plenty of moisture when potted.
However, the soil needs to be well-drained, as too much exposure to water can cause root rot.
Keeping this balance when watering the plant requires some careful planning and equally careful watering.
A more practical method involves relative humidity.
Ludicia prefers high humidity.
To achieve the desired 50 to 60 percent, you may use a room humidifier, pebble tray, or Wardian case.
Avoid spraying the plant, as this could harm the leaves.
Depending on how loose the substrate is, this humidity level will help keep the roots damp without saturating them and essentially eliminate the need for watering.
You will also need to feed the plants, especially during growth and flowering periods.
Using an orchid fertilizer, feed this orchid plant every other week during growing stages and once per month the rest of the year.
Soil & Transplanting
When potting Ludicia, you’ll want to start with a good, loose substrate allowing both air and water to pass through.
It should also have a neutral acidity.
This substrate could include a number of materials, such as peat, sphagnum moss, pine bark or needles, birch charcoal, or coarse-grained river sand.
Top this off with an orchid potting mix with perlite.
Jewel orchids tend to spread outwards, leading them to slowly overcrowd their pots.
Some signs a plant needs repotting include reduced vertical stability, protruding roots, visual overcrowding, or falling leaves.
Transplanting annually also helps ensure the potting soil stays nice and fresh.
To repot, gently lift the entire root ball and place it in the new container, then backfill loosely.
Use wide, shallow pots to allow for more freedom to spread, as the roots don’t stretch very deep.
Grooming and Maintenance
Outside of ensuring the plant gets an adequate amount of water and humidity, a jewel orchid plant requires very little maintenance.
They also don’t need to be pruned or shaped due to the way they grow.
How To Propagate Jewel Orchid Ludisia Discolor
Unlike many other plants, jewel orchids are quite easy to propagate using stem cuttings.
The stems themselves are quite brittle and easy to harvest.
Simply take a cutting with the upper leaves intact and plant in a pot containing the same soil as the parent plant.
It will take a few months for the new plant to grow large enough roots to become stable, so be sure to place the pot somewhere it won’t get bumped.
Ludisia Discolor Pest or Disease Problems
Jewel orchids are very sensitive to their environment, faring poorly in dry or cold conditions.
Too much moisture can lead to rot.
The plant is also susceptible to spider mites.
Suggested Jewel Orchid Uses
These are essentially decorative indoor plants, with no particular fragrance and the need for a humid environment.
It fares quite well as bathroom plant, or in a terrarium with other tropical plants.