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The genus Anoectochilus consists of approximately 30 species of small terrestrial herbs ranging (collectively) from the Himalayan foothills in India to mountains of Southeast Asia, Japan, Indonesia, and some of the Pacific Islands, including Taiwan.
Anoectochilus are shade-loving plants growing in leaf litter and humus or on mossy rocks. They are often referred to as "jewel orchids" due to the remarkable coloration of their leaves. While some Anoectochilus have green leaves, most have velvety maroon-green or blackish-green leaves with glistening metallic veins of copper, silver, or gold.
The name Anoectochilus comes from the Greek "aniktos" = "open" and "cheilos" = "lip" or "labellum", a reference to the open aspect of the flowers. The flowers, though small, are large in proportion to the size of the plants and bear some interesting features, particularly related to the labellum, which is clawed and has nodules or projections off both lateral sides so that it resembles a filleted fish.
The leaves of some species of Anoectochilus have been used in China to make a tea believed to be helpful in curing problems associated with the liver and lungs.
Researchers at the School of Medical Technology, Medical School Yang-Ming, in Taiwan, have investigated the use of Anoectochilus formosanus as an anti-inflammatory agent, an anti-depression agent, and even for use against the virus influenza A.
Jewel orchids grow best in warm, humid, and shady conditions with gentle air movement and can be grown in well-draining moisture-retaining media such as sphagnum moss or fine fir bark loamy compost (or mixtures of the two).
As an explanation for the color patterns in the foliage, a charming legend is told in Indonesia of a goddess veiled in diaphanous silks who visited a poor impoverished village in the hopes of giving the people there a greater appreciation for finer things. But the people were afraid of this stranger and drove her off. Some distance away, while recovering from her ordeal with the natives, she removed one of her glistening veils and laid it on the rocks to dry. The people then realized, too late, her divinity. As she turned to leave them, her veil shredded as she retrieved it from the rocks...and these rocks became the plants we now know as jewel orchids.
Anoectochilus setaceus is one of the more commonly cultivated species from southern China and tropical Asia. Its classification is still somewhat confused as it has been synonymized with several other species with very distinct floral and vegetative characteristics.