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 of lightening bolts have been threaded into them. I got my two plants from J&L Orchids—they’re an American nursery but had come to Canada to give a talk at our local Orchid Society meeting back in May, 2018. Once very difficult to find, M. petola has progressively become more common and easy to find due to invitro cloning practices. If you’ve recently acquired one – CONGRATS!
Check out my Macodes petola in my last repot video
Please note: this information about Macodes petola and its care is based on my experience and what I have learned through others. I have had my two plants for over 2 years. I grow them like houseplants in front of an East-facing window in my bedroom, where they also get some additional LED grow light. My climate is dry with an average humidity of ~18-45% and my home temps average around 22C with a range of 16C in the coldest nights of winter and 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 higher humidity may improve their growth, I have found it’s not a fundamental requirement (provided you can meet a few other needs).
Background: back in the day, before I got my two plants, there wasn’t a lot of “experiential advice” available about how to grow Macodes petola. A lot of care advice was cookie cutter, “high humidity, low light, warm temps”, but well-grown plants were a rare sight. So, I turned to the orchid forums and kept an eye out for very-well grown specimens. I actively avoided advice from people who had newly-acquired plants because orchids grow slowly and it takes a few months to know if the plant is actually doing well or not. Through my research, the two best-grown jewel orchids I found were from Canadian growers. When I asked, “How??!?!…did you get such well grown jewels?”, and they told me they just grew them like houseplants with a moderate dose of filtered sunlight—shocking, right? No fancy humidity treatments, special enclosures or potting mixes. My mind was blown but I’m thankful for what I learned then because it fundamentally changed my success with this group of orchids.
My Inspiration: an established windowsill grown Macodes petola 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 moderate light, mild temperatures, and the roots are kept continuously moist. Moist doesn’t mean wet and you also want to avoid bone dry—the sweet spot in between that ensures air can flow through the potting mix but keep the roots hydrated.
In nature this species is 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 in nature (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 simply tolerant of a broad range of conditions.
Jewel Orchid Growing Tips – Caring for Macodes petola
- Humidity isn’t a big deal – sure, it’s better…but clearly, based my plants it’s not a fundamental requirement. My plants grow in my dry climate with little issue; my humidity is generally18-45% with a period in the fall where it sometimes hovers between 50-60% between September and October. I don’t use humidifiers or humidity trays, and as you can see from the look of my plants, they’re not doing too badly. 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. There is even evidence to support that plants can adapt to lower humidity by decreasing the number of stomata on the leaves. The complexities of botany aside, this is my experience, apply it as you would like.
- Hydration IS a big deal – DO NOT LET THE ROOTS GO BONE DRY! But also avoid keeping them sopping-wet for many days at a time. Dryness can kill roots or cause them to abort active growth tips, and if your plant is so dry that it’s wilting, it’s severely water stressed. Overly WET roots can lead to root rot which is common with jewels if conditions are not ideal. This mostly happens if the potting media is too compact (not airy and well-oxygenated), so 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 in your climate will be important to your success, as 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 but on my last repot I moved them to the classic orchid mix (#2 listed below). Potting media options:
- 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.
- Only Sphagnum moss is popular too; I have used it for jewels in small pots because it holds LOTS of water (18x it’s dry weight in water). However, it also tends to deteriorate quickly and compact which can lead to root rot. Adding structure with perlite helps prevent this but if you’re using pure sphagnum moss, you should repot every 8-10 months to avoid root rot.
- 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 – If you’re familiar with light measurement numbers, and have used a light meter app, I grow my jewels at around 500-1,500fc (or 5,000–13,000lux; OR 81–300umole/m2/s) with daytime peaks of up to 2,500fc (26K lux; or 500umole/m2/s). If you’re not familiar with light measurement, then abstractly I recommend “moderately-bright but filtered sun”—being careful to avoid HOT direct mid-day sun which can easily scorch/burn the leaves and kill a plant. You’ll want to keep the leaf surface cool while providing sufficient light. If light is insufficient, the plants become lanky as they stretch to reach more light (a condition called etiolation) or the plant just won’t grow and is more likely to suffer from root and rot issues. Jewel orchids respond well to LED grow lights that can offer a moderate and consistent intensity of light for a full 10-12h period, 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. I have only included this note incase there are people out there who are curious why their leaf colors are different than mine—it may be related to something other than light spectrum also…but I’ve noticed the leaves on my same plants have varied in color over the years.
Jewel Orchid Terrariums
I am personally not a fan of table-top terrariums and have killed many orchids stuffing them into vases or glass boxes, this includes a handful of jewel orchids. 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. I have found that Macodes petola thrives on routine cycles of active irrigation followed by a period where the media approaches dryness but does not go bone dry. This provides good oxygenation at the root zone and keeps the potting mix “fresh” while also keeping the plant hydrated. With regards to humidity, I have found through experience growing literally hundreds of orchids and even more tropical plants, that proper hydration can take the place of high humidity, but it’s a balance of keeping the roots evenly moist, and avoiding the “wilting point”. If your waiting so long to water that your jewel orchids go limp…you’re severely stressing the plant and need to adjust your watering routine. Another struggle with terrarium culture is achieving enough light—natural sun can cook the plants as the terrarium bottles up the heat; however, LED grow lights have come a long way and there are many people who love growing jewel orchids in terrariums. You do you 🙂
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
October 2020 Update (2 months after repot)
July 2020 Repot
Video of my newly acquired Macodes petola Jewel Orchids
Update Video One-Year Later – Macodes petola
More About Macodes petola