Jewel orchid is an informal horticultural term that is used to refer to any species of orchid that is cultivated for its foliage rather than its flowers. Most species of jewel orchids are recognized as having foliage that is either brightly colored or heavily variegated. Variegated leaves are leaves that have more than one color. In the case of jewel orchids, the veins of the leaves are always far brighter than the rest of the leaf. There are four primary genera of jewel orchids: Anoectochilus, Goodyera, Ludisia and Macodes.
Certain members of the Ludisa genus are amongst the easiest jewel orchids to grow. Most orchid dealers have found that one species of Ludisa in particular, L. nigra, is the most popular jewel orchid on the market. The foliage of this jewel orchid species consists of fleshy leaves that are dark black with bright orange and red veins. Like most Ludisas, these plants are often sold as regular houseplants in regular potting soil.
Nearly all of the over 50 members of the Goodyera genus have brightly colored foliage that qualifies them as jewel orchids. Much like Ludisa jewel orchids, most species of Goodyera are easily grown as regular houseplants that require only basic care. M. daubuzanensis is a particularly popular jewel orchid that grows eye-catching marbled foliage consisting of white and green. This species is native to Taiwan and can tolerate temperatures as cold as 55° Fahrenheit (about 13° Celsius).
Macodes is a genus of unusual jewel orchids that are much larger in stature. There are seven recognized species of Macodes, and all of these orchid species can be considered jewel orchids. This genus is recognized for having foliage that is dark green with light green or white veins. Most Macodes orchids are rarely available on the retail market and are not often cultivated outside of Malaysia. The jewel orchid M. petola is available from some specialty orchid dealers but is more difficult to care for than Ludisa and Goodyera jewel orchids.
Anoecochilus is the rarest genus of jewel orchids with some 25 species that are native to tropical regions of Polynesia, Australia and Asia. Most species of this genus are considered challenging to grow even by experienced horticulturalists. Many species have become threatened with extinction in their native habitat. A. regalis has wide, pointed leaves that are bright green with yellow veins, while the variegated veins of A. roxburghii are light silver.