Commonly referred to as the jewel orchid for its exquisite beauty, Ludisia is a genus that only contains one plant: L. discolor. This ornamental plant, popular in Asia, grows in China and Southeast Asia. They are often grown in containers. The jewel orchid is so named because of the loveliness of its foliage, which is often streaked with violet and red, and for its delicate white flowers.
As terrestrial orchids, these plants grow in soil and if you choose to cultivate them should be kept in a pot. Notably, there also exist a few variants of Ludisia. ‘Alba,’ which is albino, is pale, while ‘Nigrescens’ is a deep black. Though extremely beautiful, these plants are rarely grown outside Asia, and you’d probably need to either consult a specialty source or travel a long distance to find one. But if you are interested in growing Ludisia plants, note that their natural conditions are in tropical forests with extremely hot and humid conditions, so only attempt to grow them if you can mimic the amniotic warmth they need to succeed.
They flower annually, assuming they’ve been well-fed and kept, and the flowers last about a month or so before they die back. With their subtle, lovely colors, these plants make a great addition to any collection of tropical orchids, especially in a shade house.
- Light: In their natural habitat, Ludisias are protected from the sunlight by the thick forest canopy and so are rarely exposed to the sun. So in cultivation, they should be kept in low light conditions to avoid burning their leaf tips.
- Water: Keep them extremely moist and mist them regularly. Letting these plants dry out is an easy way to kill them.
- Temperature: Warm tropical temperatures above fifty degrees. Jewel orchids are not tolerant of frost.
- Soil: A good orchid potting mix should be fine, ideally one that contains some organic material. Make sure the drainage is good to avoid rotting their roots.
- Fertilizer: These plants should regularly be fed with a balanced, diluted fertilizer like a 20-20-20. If their blooms are insufficient, then up their feeding.
Propagate jewel orchids by dividing them, ideally using a sterilized tool to avoid possibly infecting the plant. Cut away the pseudobulb and treat it with rooting hormone to increase the chance of propagation, then replant it in warm, moist soil with good drainage. It’s a good idea to bag up these cuttings to seal in heat and moisture.
Repot jewel orchids annually to make sure their soil stays fresh, especially if the plant is beginning to look overcrowded or stressed. Common signs that an orchid needs to be repotted include falling leaves and roots protruding from the surface of the soil. To repot, lift the root ball as a whole and replant in a fresh container, then backfill it with soil. Make sure not to pack too tightly to ensure that the plant is still draining well.
Ludisia is a monotype genus and, aside from cultivars, contains only the one species. However, it’s one of many vibrant orchids native to the tropical forests of Southeast Asia, which have the warm and wet conditions necessary to keep a stunning variety of orchids alive. Ornamental orchids are so popular in Singapore, Thailand, and all across the region that the trade in illegal, exotic species has led to the near-destruction of many beautiful varieties. This, in part, explains Ludisia’s relative rarity.
Like life itself, growing jewel orchids is largely a matter of balance and moderation. All factors which contribute to their health must offset each other, and though they do need extraordinarily warm and humid conditions to thrive, they also need good aeration and a little light. The easiest way to damage these plants is to expose them to too much direct sunlight, so be careful not to burn them. Keep an eye out for typical orchid pests like scale, which can be dealt with using a good eco-friendly fertilizer, and watch for discolorations or falling leaves that can signify that the plant is somehow unhealthy.