Macodes petola: How to Grow the Lightning Jewel Orchid

True to its name, the Lightning Jewel Orchid is a genuinely striking plant.

Jewel orchids are prized for unique foliage rather than their flowers, and this one is no exception. With gorgeous gold venation that pierces the leaves, Macodes petola really does look like a lightning strike in action.

They love the high temperatures and humidities that a terrarium can provide, though they can be grown indoors with the right approach.

Ready to find out how? Let’s go.

Macodes petola (Lightning Jewel Orchid)

Macodes petola (A Flashy Overview)

Native to the rainforests of Southeast Asia, Macodes petola is a tropical stunner that’s making quite a splash on the internet. 

I mean, of course it is. Look at it!

This compact species of orchid is fairly unique in that they grow terrestrially (meaning in the ground) rather than epiphytically like many of their cousins.

It really does light up any space you put it, and because it’s so small… that’s a lot of potential spaces.

They make a fantastic feature plant in a terrarium (or any area in the home that needs a little flair), but they do have some important care requirements to consider – both in, and out of glass.

Where to Buy Macodes petola

See the links below to purchase from reputable terrarium plant shops and marketplaces (may include affiliate links). 

Image Credit: Glassboxtropicals on Etsy.
US – See on Etsy
UK – See on Etsy

Macodes petola Care & Growth

At a Glance

Plant TypeFoliage
LightingMedium-high indirect light
Temperature65-80°F (18-26°C)
WateringRegular, even moisture
HumidityHigh humidity (60-90%)
Growth6-12 inches

Lighting

As you might expect from a tiny tropical understory plant used to living out its days (unseen and underappreciated) on the rainforest floor, it’s not accustomed to getting a lot of light – certainly not direct light.

In fact, Macodes petola is one of the few plants considered to be a “low light plant.”

It’s not going to thrive in full shade and it will certainly affect its vibrancy, but it’ll manage. They can also get a bit leggy if there’s only a weak light source to reach for.

Bright, indirect light is going to be best for this jewel orchid, so a North or East-facing windows are usually good bets (assuming you’re in the Northern Hemisphere like myself).

Always keep this plant out of direct sunlight, and if it starts to show signs of stress, try moving it to a shadier position or try to shield the plant using other larger plant species – which certainly isn’t hard in a terrarium with a plant this small.

Alternatively, a grow light can be a good idea for delicate jewel orchids such as these. Getting lots of (safe) light will keep them happy and compact.

Watering

The Lightning Jewel Orchid likes regular, even moisture.

It really doesn’t like to dry out.

Though as a tiny terrestrial plant, it’s not going to need huge quantities of water at a time either. So, take care not to completely saturate your growing media when you water.

The roots of jewel orchids need good aeration and are sadly prone to root rot – which makes a waterlogged substrate a recipe for disaster.

In a terrarium, you’ll want to find a water balance with ample moisture in the system. A little condensation on the glass at the substrate layer is a good indicator (not saturated by any means). 

A high humidity can offset some of the moisture loss too, so closed terrariums can make life a lot easier with this plant.

Substrate / Soil

There’s a delicate balance to be found with Macodes petola.

You’ll want a substrate with excellent water retention to keep it moist at all times, but enough aeration to keep the roots happy and healthy.

Not always an easy feat with such a sensitive plant…

Light, and airy mixes are preferable to heavy substrates to allow airflow to the roots. I prefer coco coir and/or sphagnum moss bases with heavy orchid bark or perlite/vermiculite supplementation.

Macodes petola
Currently, my Macodes petola is sat in pure sphagnum moss till I decide what to do with it…

See my Terrarium Substrate Guide for more help on getting the ideal mix.

As a soil-less substrates, you’ll need to supplement with organic nutrients by either adding some earthworm castings to your mix, or periodically adding some liquid fertilizer (though, as such a slow grower, you really won’t need much).

Temperature & Humidity

Macodes petola really thrives in hot and humid environments, so as you can imagine – terrariums are an orchids best friend.

That being said, they can be grown in household conditions as long as you live in a suitably humid climate (e.g. it’s typically 50%+ here in the UK) or if you use a pebble tray / run a humidifier nearby.

One important thing to note – as with many orchids – is that the Lightning Jewel Orchid often does better when it gets some airflow. Both around the leaves and the roots.

So, if planted in a terrarium, I’d definitely recommend airing it out semi-regularly to allow for some gas exchange. These plants may struggle in an environment that’s completely sealed up for too long.

It’s also a good idea to avoid getting the leaves of Macodes petola wet in closed terrariums, as without any airflow its difficult for them to dry effectively which can also lead to rotting.

Growth

This jewel orchid species is a relatively slow grower and should stay compact well into maturity.

It grows along a creeping rhizome – essentially a thick (often underground) stem – so with a bit of love and luck you can expect it to grow into a denser foliage over time.

Unless you’re blessed by the jewel orchid gods, you’re unlikely to need to prune this little beauty very often, if at all.

Though, the temperamental nature of this plant means it can be prone to losing leaves, so feel free to remove any areas that are looking particularly sad. Besides, you can always try propagating any parts that include a leaf node too – more on that next.

Propagation

You can propagate Macodes petola through a variety of means.

Dividing the plant at the rhizome or the stem can both create new viable individual plants, or this species also propagates by asexual division – so you can often simply remove new offspring from the mother plant.

  • For stem cuttings, try to select a section that contains at least one root node. This can be planted into water till they develop roots, or directly into a growth medium like moist sphagnum (or potentially even straight into your terrarium mix if it’s suitable).
  • Rhizome division is often the most effective, as the mother plant has already created a section of plant that’s able to support itself once removed. Simply make a clean cut of the rhizome to separate out an area that’s fully rooted and contains a few leaves – and voila!

Varieties & Similar Plants

Macodes petola has a few known varieties, which differ only in the expression of their venation.

M. petola var. Robusta shows only longitudinal veins, and var. Javanica shows transverse connected with longitudinal veins. Both are just as beautiful!

But hold up, the gorgeous range of jewel orchids don’t stop there.

Anoectochilus chapaensis (the Golden Jewel Orchid) is like the reverse of Macodes petola, with gorgeous dark leaves and pink-tinged gold venation. Or, there’s the ever popular Ludisia discolor that’s a much more beginner-friendly jewel orchid.

Goes Well With

Macodes petola is quite the particular plant, and so suitable plant pairings have a lot to consider. 

The following are a selection of stunning terrarium plants that love a high humidity and warm temperatures, and also benefit from additional airflow.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does Macodes petola bloom?

Macodes petola will typically flower once a year with simple creamy brown stems. Jewel orchids aren’t often picked for their blooms but these do exhibit an understated beauty.

What are the gold flecks in a Macodes petola?

The stunning crystalline gold venation of Macodes petola is a natural form of leaf variegation. 

Is Macodes petola rare?

Macodes petola has been considered a rare plant in the market in recent years, but thanks to modern propagation techniques it’s now much more readily available.