There are plants for all types of gardeners. There are even orchids for lazy, inattentive house plant people. Black Jewel Orchids aren’t demanding and require only regular house plant care. They aren’t spectacular, but are pretty and they let me truthfully say, “Why, yes, I’ve grown orchids for years.”
The plant is Ludisia Discolor, a species of terrestrial orchids. They grow in soil in tropical forests of southeast Asia. This means they will grow well in regular potting mix. The canopy of the forest protects them from sun, so they like indoors or a shaded patio in summer. They like bright light but not full sun, so you can put them in the north or east-facing window. Although they like humidity, I’ve found that they do well in the normal climate of kitchen or bedroom without adding humidity. They can’t take cold weather, so if they are on the patio, bring them in for winter.
Black Jewels don’t like wet feet but have shallow roots, so water lightly about once a week. I tend to forget this and my plants tolerate getting dry, but are more lush when I make the effort to water more often. They are not heavy feeders, so one a month with regular house plant fertilizer will do. I tend to forget this also and my plants do well anyway. I haven’t had pest problems and I’ve planted in non-sterilized soil, so they seem to be disease resistant.
Much like purple heart, these orchids grow with segments trailing over the pot to get down to the forest floor. When a segment breaks off, just stick it in soil to propagate. Although they have shallow roots, they do need heavy pots or to be put into heavy cache pots. The trailing over the edge habit can go on for several feet if on a taller shelf and can mean that more plant ends up out of the pot than in it. Then the weight can pull the plant off the windowsill or shelf.
The beauty of Black Jewel Orchids in in the leaves. These are dark green velvety leaves with pink to maroon and silver pinstripes. The flowers are very small, white blossoms on stalks. If Barbie can’t wait for the Banksia roses for her bridal bouquet, she can use these orchids and marry in late January to early February. Though not as spectacular as other orchid blossoms, the Black Jewel flowers bloom at the right time when you long for blossoms to mark winter’s end.
These orchids are not commonly available although Calloway’s has had them. They are for sale on the internet, but the best way to get one is free from a propagation addict.
by Marj McClung, Ellis County Master Gardener