Normally grown as a houseplant, nerve plant (Fittonia spp.) is a spreading evergreen perennial with delicately veined, deep-green leaves. Although the most popular vein color is silvery-white, you can also readily find varieties with veins in red, pink, white, and green. Nerve plant is a low growing creeper that is a perfect fit for terrariums or bottle gardens. Fittonia typically grows to a height of 3 to 6 inches with a trailing spread of 12 to 18 inches. Although the plant rarely flowers when grown as an indoor houseplant, it does occasionally bloom with insignificant reddish or yellowish-white spikes. In USDA hardiness zone 11, nerve plant is sometimes grown as a creeping ground-cover in filtered sun locations.
As beautiful as it is, Fittonia is somewhat temperamental and tricky to grow as a houseplant. It requires very high, constant humidity, such as found in a terrarium, and cannot tolerate stagnant conditions. Nerve plant is also sensitive to strong, direct sunlight and will quickly suffer from leaf burn.
|Botanical Name||Fittonia albivenis|
|Common Names||Nerve plant, mosaic plant, fittonia, painted net leaf|
|Plant Type||Evergreen herbaceous perennial|
|Mature Size||3–6 in. tall, 12- to 18-in. spread|
|Sun Exposure||Filtered indirect sun or part shade|
|Soil Type||Moist, well-draining soil|
|Soil pH||Prefers slightly acidic soil (6.5), will tolerate alkaline soils|
|Bloom Time||Sporadically, usually July to August|
|Flower Color||Yellowish-white or reddish, flowers are insignificant|
|Hardiness Zones||Zone 11, grown as a houseplant in all climates|
|Native Area||Tropical rainforests of South America, principally Peru|
Watch Now: Everything You Need to Know About the Nerve Plant
Nerve Plant Care
When grown indoors, pot a nerve plant in a peaty commercial potting mix. The plant needs to be kept constantly moist with a high level of ambient humidity provided by frequent misting or by growing it in a tray filled with pebbles and water.
Ideally, most growers find it's easiest to grow these lovely but temperamental plants in terrariums or covered gardens where they can get the high humidity and diffuse light they love so much.
As a tropical plant that naturally grows in the humid, bright shade of tropical forests, this plant prefers similar conditions when grown as a houseplant. It dislikes full sunlight, preferring bright, indirect sun, such as that offered by north-facing windows. It will also thrive under fluorescent lights.
Fittonia grows well in standard potting soil with a peat-moss base. The soil should retain some moisture but should also drain well.
Keeping the plant appropriately moist can be a challenge. Nerve plant is prone to collapse if it's allowed to dry out. Although it will recover quickly if thoroughly watered, repeated fainting spells will eventually take their toll on the plant. At the other extreme, Fittonia plants that are allowed to stagnate in water will develop yellowed, limp leaves.
Temperature and Humidity
Nerve plant thrives at temperatures around 70 degrees Fahrenheit but will tolerate a range from the low 60s to low 80s. These plants prefer humid conditions similar to those found in rainforests. Regular misting will keep the plants from drying out. In arid climates or during the dry months of winter, using a room humidifier may be helpful. Terrariums or bottle gardens are naturally moist environments well suited to the plant.
During its growing season, feed plants weekly with a weak dose of liquid fertilizer formulated for tropical plants. A balanced 5-5-5 fertilizer diluted to half strength is a good formulation.
Potting and Repotting
Any conventional potting soil mix and standard houseplant pot with bottom drainage holes will work for Fittonia.
Repot Fittonia annually in spring or early summer. Always use fresh potting soil when you repot to prevent soil compaction and waterlogging.
Nerve plants propagate readily from leaf-tip cuttings. Take the leaf-tip cuttings in late spring or early summer, at the same time you repot the plant. Make sure to include at least two growing nodes on the cutting to obtain the best results. Once you've potted up the cutting in a peat-based soil mix, you can expect roots to sprout within two to three weeks.
Use of a rooting hormone is not usually necessary, but if your conditions are less than ideal (too dry or too cool), rooting hormone might increase your chances of success.
Nerve plant grows quickly in the right conditions, and if the stems grow leggy, pinching off the tips will keep the growth full and bushy. Because the flowers are insignificant and boring, pinching off the buds will also help keep the foliage full.
Varieties of Fittonia
The species form of F. abivensis has green leaves with silver veins. The Verschaffelt Group of F. albivensis (the "typical" Fittonia) contains many cultivars, including 'Argyroneura' (silver-white veins) and 'Pearcei' (reddish veins). The 'Minima' and 'Argyroneura' varieties are well suited to terrarium culture.
Another Fittonia species to consider is F. gigantea, which can reach 24 inches and has purple stems with dark green leaves and crimson veins
Many of the problems associated with Fittonia are the same ones that can affect other tropical houseplants:
- Yellow leaves are the result of too much water. Use a pot with drainage holes to prevent soggy soil.
- Leaf drop is usually the result of cold temperatures or drafts. Try to mimic the tropical conditions where this species naturally grows.
- Dry, shriveled leaves usually indicate that the plants are not receiving enough humidity, or are receiving too much direct sun. Use a room humidifier in winter when humidity levels can drop significantly. Keep your nerve plant out of direct sunlight.
- Insect problems include fungus gnats, mealy bugs, or aphids. Infestations should be treated immediately, and keep affected plants isolated to prevent the bugs from spreading to other indoor plants.
Fittonia albivenis (Verschaffeltii Group). Missouri Botanical Garden.
How Not to Kill Your Houseplant: Survival Tips for the Horticulturally Challenged Peerless, Veronica. How Not to Kill Your Houseplant: Survival Tips for the Horticulturally Challenged. Penguin Random House. 2017.
Fittonia Production Guide. Mid-Florida Research and Information Center, University of Florida.