Orchid Species Name: Macodes petola
Care Group: Jewel Orchids
Arguably the most coveted of all the jewel orchids, Macodes petola is a stunning foliage plant. The leaves have crystalline and sparkly veins that look like gold flecks have been threaded into them. I warn you though, this plant could be difficult to find and it took me over 8 years to find a seller here in Canada. I got my two plants from J&L Orchids who had come to our Orchid Society meeting back in May, 2018. In recent years they have become more available due to invitro cloning practices, so if you’ve recently acquired one – CONGRATS!
A photo of my largest Macodes petola plant
Please note: this information about Macodes petola and its care is based on my experience and what I have learned through discussions with others who grow the plant well. I have had my two plants for a little over 1.5 years and I grow them like houseplants in front of an East-facing window in my bedroom with some additional LED grow light in the afternoon. My climate is dry with an average humidity of ~28-45% and my home temps average around 20C with a range of 16C in the coldest nights of winter, up to 29C on the hottest days of summer.
Overview: EVERYTHING online harps incessantly on the need for Macodes petola (and other jewel orchids such as Ludisia discolor) to have HIGH HUMIDITY to do well; while this will make them grow better, I have found it’s not a fundamental requirement (if you can meet a few other needs). I am personally not a fan of terrariums and have killed many orchids stuffing them into glass boxes or vases and this includes a bunch of jewel orchids. Please learn from my mistakes. I have come to understand that the reason orchids don’t do well in terrariums is because they need good airflow to prevent rot, leaf and root issues—which a terrarium does not provide. Macodes petola is no different and it thrives on active irrigation and good oxygenation (especially at the root zone). With regards to humidity…I have found through experience of hundreds of tropical plants, that proper hydration can take the place of high humidity, but it’s a balance of keeping the roots evenly moist and oxygenated.
Background: Before I first got these two plants, I did as much research as possible. I found there wasn’t a lot of “experiential advice” available about growing Macodes petola (or other jewel orchids for that matter), so I watched the orchid forums like a hawk and kept an eye out for very-well grown plants. I also avoided advice from people who had newly-acquired plants (because it takes a few months to know if the plant is doing well or not and LOTS of people post photos of newly planted jewels in terrariums…which are never to be seen again). The two best growers of jewel orchids I found were also in Canada and what they told me was shocking…they simply grew them like houseplants! At the time, my mind was blown…but I’m thankful for what I learned because it changed my success with this group of orchid.
An established Macodes petola – windowsill grown by another person
Macodes petola Care
As per the recommendations noted above, I have found that jewel orchids grow well as a houseplant provided they are given good light, mild temps and the roots are kept continuously moist. Moist, and well-oxygenated, that is (so no sloppy-wet / muddy roots pls). In nature they are widely distributed, “found from Borneo, Java, Malaysia, Sumatra, the Philippines and the remote islands of Japan in lowland and lower montane forests at elevations of 100 to 1500 meters” —OrchidSpecies.com.
The broad range of the species (both in elevation and in distribution across various islands) likely indicates there may be care differences required for individual plants (depending on their origin) or they might be widely distributed because they are tolerant of a broad range of conditions—whatever the reason is, the takeaway is that…they’re pretty much weeds in Southeast Asia.
Jewel Orchid Growing Tips – Caring for Macodes petola
- Humidity isn’t a big deal – sure, it’s better…but clearly, based on the look of my plants it’s not a fundamental requirement. Both of my plants grow in my dry climate with little issue; my humidity is often as low as 18% for many days/weeks on end and I don’t use humidifiers or humidity trays to fix that. As you can see they grow and perform well. While higher humidity may slow transpiration (how water is lost through the plant’s leaves), low humidity doesn’t appear to affect the plant’s ability to survive and grow well provided you can keep it continuously hydrated.
- Hydration IS a big deal – DO NOT LET THE ROOTS DRY OUT! But also avoid keeping them sopping-wet. Dry roots can abort growth (setting the plant back); an overly dry plant will make it sulk, wilt, and eventually die; and overly WET roots may lead to root rot if the potting media is too compact (not airy and well-oxygenated). It’s a balance of finding the sweet spot between not too wet and not too dry. Understanding the tempo at which you should water your plant is important and so too is selecting a potting media that is both moisture retentive but also open and airy.
- Macodes petola potting media – I tested both of the following mixes and found them to be equally viable options. I liked the first option more initially, because it took longer to dry out and bought me time if it was an exceptionally hot or dry week. However, after 6 months the second media had better performance (likely because of better airflow). In the end, both potting mixes worked well and I still have one plant potted in each mix – the main difference between them is that the first one stays moist longer and therefor needs to be watered less frequently:
- Orchid Mud Mix: Peatmoss (50%) + Perlite (50%) – this is basically tropical plant potting soil with additional perlite added to increase structure and aeration. I was skeptical about this mix working well, but my plant responded nicely. During the coolest days of winter I would be cautious of how often you water with this mix – if it’s wet and cold for too long, it could lead to root/rot issues. Water as the media approaches dryness, and add more perlite if it’s too wet for more than 2 days after watering.
- Classic Orchid Mix w/ more Sphag moss: Bark (20%) + Sphagnum Moss (50%) + Perlite (30%) – this is a chunkier mix, but if you’re finding it’s drying too quickly (within a day or two) then you can let the pot sit in 1/4″ tray of water. If you’re sitting the pot in a bit of water, that shouldn’t take the place of regular watering and definitely don’t just “top up the water.” You’ll want to flush the potting mix with clean/fresh water on a weekly basis in an effort to keep roots healthy and oxygenated. If you grow phragmipediums, the care for these jewel orchids is similar – they like it constantly moist at the roots…but with open and well-oxygenated mix, not a suffocating, compact and dense potting mix. After a few months the sphagnum and bark will break down and start to hold water longer and you wont have to leave it sitting in water.
- Whatever potting mix you decide, do your best to avoid letting the roots go bone dry. Like I mentioned above, if the roots get too dry, the plant sulks and you can set it back.
- What about the other famous Jewel orchid, Ludisia discolor? I’ve covered Ludisia discolor in its own post; the difference is that Ludisia discolor (and jewel orchids with thicker roots) are more adapted to airy conditions and will not respond as well to wet conditions. Still keep their roots continuously moist, but avoid wetness for days on end.
- Fertilize – weakly, weekly with soluble fertilizer + organic fert in the substrate about 3 times per year. When using non-organic (water-soluble) fertilizers, I spray the leaves as well as the pot – jewels are foliar feeders, which simply means they take in nutrients through their leaves.
For organic ferts, I use a high-nitrogen organic fertilizer mixed into the potting mix (about 1/8-1/4 tsp per pot); I like bloodmeal or a balanced organic fert called Gia Green – all-purpose fertilizer (4-4-4).
Macodes petola are often found in limestone regions, so you may want to consider dosing with calcium (CalMag), or adding eggshells or oyster shells to your potting mix to ensure a regular supply of calcium is available to the plant.
- Light – moderately-bright but filtered sun; avoid HOT direct mid-day sun. You’ll want to keep the leaf surface cool while providing good light. If the plant isn’t getting enough light, they get lanky or tend to stall out and not grow. Light intensity that works for “summer blooming phalaenopsis” seems to be a good intensity for my Macodes petola but other sources recommend lower. Their dark-green leaves may make them more susceptible to leaf burn, so just exercise caution when trying to get them to conditions that are bright enough. These plants do respond well to LED grow lights so consider artificial grow lights if you really want your plant to perform well.
- A note about leaf color – In looking back through my photos (below), there is a shift in the color of the leaves. Currently, I’m using a red-heavy “flower” spectrum LED light, previously, I was using a blue-heavy “Full-Spectrum Grow LED” – because blue light is more damaging and possibly penetrates deeper into the forest, I wonder if the difference in leaf coloration is due to the light spectrum? Not sure, but the timeline makes sense based on when I swapped the lights.
Repot Video – Macodes petola
That’s it for my experience with this plant; if you’d like to know more about jewel orchids and their care, hop over to YouTube and check out Orchid Dee’s great video on the topic. If you want to see more photos, keep scrolling down and check out the reverse timeline (most-recent first) of my plants over the past year and a bit.
Macodes Petola Photos
July 2020 Repot
Video of my newly acquired Macodes petola Jewel Orchids
Update Video One-Year Later – Macodes petola
More About Macodes petola