The Jewels of the Orchid Family

Many times you may hear people comment on the unattractiveness of orchid plants. Some will actually purchase an orchid in full bloom and then throw the “ugly thing” away when it has completed its blooming cycle! The “Jewel Orchids,” with their elegant leaves, are an exception to this rule because they are grown for their foliage more than the flowers. Ludisia discolorThe leaves of the “Jewel Orchids” may look like a burgundy velvet piece of cloth, delicately decorated with red and gold veins. Others are a maroon color, while some are a lush wintergreen on top,with rich maroon underneath, and accented with white veins flowing through the leaf. In this article, I will tell you about four “Jewel Orchid” genera — Ludisia, Anoectochilus, Goodyera, and Macodes.

The most common “Jewel Orchid” is a native of Indonesia and Burma called Ludisia discolor, which is also known as Haemaria discolor. You may be growing this orchid as a house plant right now and not realize it is an orchid! In the United States, these are often found in stores around Easter. Since they are planted in rich soil, many think they are just another pretty houseplant. The flowers are small and grow in clusters on upright inflorescence. The blooms are white with yellow columns, have no fragrance and can last for 2 to 3 weeks.

The history of Ludisia discolor is quite interesting. In 1818 John Ker-Gawler described this orchid in the Botanical register as Goodyera discolor. A. Richard re-classified Goodyeara discolor (1825) in the Dictionnaire Classique d’ Histoire as Ludisia discolor. In 1840 along came John Lindley and for some reason transferred this species again! This time it was placed in the genus Haemaria in his Genera and Species of Orchidaceous Plants. Finally in 1970 P.F. Hunt discussed this species in the Kew Bulletin that Ludisia was, infact, the correct name for this species. Will it be moved again? May be.

When caring for Ludisia discolor, keep the medium moist but not wet. Soggy roots will soon rot on these plants. Their creeping nature makes them very good candidates for a terrarium, since they will grow out of a pot very fast. The generic name “Haem” in Haemaria stands for “blood red”. If you want to preserve the rich, dark blood red color of the leaves, don’t let provide to much light. The leaves will be bleach out to a very pale color with to much light. Ideally, if you can acquire some live sphagnum for your media and use a terrarium, the “Jewel” orchids will love this arrangement in your home. If you have a green thumb, try one of these extraordinary orchids.

Anoectochilus genus has upward to forty species found in Sri Lanka, India, Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Pacific islands. Some species of Anoectochilus were used in China as medicinal plants. The Chinese made tea from the leaves and believed that the tea was beneficial in curing lung and liver diseases. The School of Medical Technology, National Yang-Ming Medical College in Taiwan, has conducted studies using Anoectochilus formosanus as an anti-inflammatory agent, fever-relief agent, anti-depression agent and also on the influenza A virus.

Goodyera genus has about twenty five species. These plants are also often referred to as the “Rattlesnake Plantains” because the coloring of the leaves often looks like reptile skin. The small bract-like inflorescence can have over 40 blooms on it. Goodyeara pubescens is one of the most common orchids in the United States which is found in the area of Wisconsin. The leaves of this “jewel” are wintergreen.

Macodes This genus has seven to ten species that are distributed from Malaysia, Indonesia, Sumatra to the Philippines. They are very Similar to Ludisia except for their flowers which has the lip at the top of the flower. These species are quite rare and are not seen in collections as frequent as Ludisia.

My very good friend sent me a fairy tale about where the peculiar venation and leaf patterns of Macodes orchids originated. The story is not exactly scientific, but then most fairy tales are not.

“A goddess of magnificent beauty, clad in sparkling raiment of silk, came to Java wishing to inspire the natives with finer feelings. Being gross and perverse people, they attacked her and chased her into the deep forest. Weary and sad, she laid her celestial scarf upon the rocks, then turned in great wrath toward the people. Now realizing they beheld a goddess, they implored her pardon and begged her to leave her scarf. She let them see it once more before returning to heaven. But several fragments were left behind on the sharp rocks. They were transformed and gave rise to leaves resembling the silken finery. Devoted ones, seeing the plants, took them up and transplanted them. In spite of their care and prayers, their treasures withered away. But the goddess was merciful and revived the dying plants with her breath. Thus the pure joy of the cloisonn’ green leaves of Macodes petola, with their satiny purple glints and shining veins which scintillate like small fragments of gold, has been conserved.”

Jewel Orchids are typically found growing in the rich humus found in the shade of large trees or growing where the water seeps down on rock surfaces and are classified as terrestrial herbs. Jewel orchids require a humidity level of 70% to 80%, low light (1000-1500 fc), and temperatures of 60-65 (16c-18c) at night, 70-80 (21c-27c) during the day. Since these orchids prefer low light, they also do not require a high amount of fertilizer. Dilute the fertilizer and use very sparingly. They are slow growing plants as well.

If you are able to supply the needed humidity, these are excellent plants to grow in your home. Try growing them in a terrarium or a room that has high humidity like a bathroom or kitchen. To propagate the “Jewel” orchids, take cuttings of the fleshy rhizomes and place them in moist soil, sphagnum moss, or even in a glass of water to creat a new root system. It will take quite a few weeks for the roots to form, so be patient.

I hope you have enjoyed learning about these beautiful “Jewels” of the Orchid Family and will join me next month in the “Orchid Garden.” In the mean time, here are some very good pages you might visit to learn more about Jewel Orchids.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *