There are quite a few popular tropical plants grown for their foliage, but many of them are toxic to pets. The nerve plant – Fittonia is safe for you and your pets. It is also one of the most striking houseplants you can own.
Better known in botanical circles as Fittonia albivenis (fit-TOH-neeuh al-bih-VEN-iss), this plant is only one of two species in its genus (alongside the larger Fittonia gigantea),
Hailing from Peru and some parts of Bolivia, Brazil, Columbia, and Ecuador. This proud member of the Acanthaceae family has parented countless Fitonnia cultivars, separated into the Argyroneura Group and Verschaffeltii Group based on the color of their veins.
The name albivenis translates to “white veins,” which is a misnomer as the plant’s veins can be a wide range of colors.
Both the species and its cultivars have been awarded the Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit. Depending on whom you talk to, it may be either easy or moderately difficult to grow.
Over the years, Fittonia albivenis has gone by many botanical names, such as:
- Adelaster albivenis
- Fittonia argyroneura
- Fittonia verschaffeltii
- Fittonia verschaffeltii var. argyroneura
- Gymnostachyum verschaffeltii
However, most people know them by such common names as:
- Jewel Plant
- Mosaic Plant
- Nerve Plant
- Painted Net Leaf
Fittonia Albivenis Plant Care
Size and Growth
These plants are fairly small, ranging from a mature size of 3″ to 12″ inches tall and 6″ to 18″ inches wide, although they may grow a little bigger outdoors.
But size isn’t the only difference between potted and planted specimens, as indoor plants tend to have a slower growth rate, taking up to 3 years to reach mature height.
It also tends to be a creeper outdoors, spreading into available spaces but can be more of a weeping plant when grown in pots, cascading over the sides.
The fuzzy stems can vary a bit, ranging from pure green tones to burgundy to red tint or even green with maroon markings.
But this plant’s true claim to fame is its green leaves and evergreen foliage that can be light or dark green, accented with numerous veins that may be pale greenish-white, pink, red, yellow, or white with many hues in between.
In some cases, these ovate leaves may even be variegated.
Generally measuring 3 to 6″ inches long and 1 to 3″ inches wide, they hold their own against larger plants such as philodendrons and pothos.
Flowering and Fragrance
Unfortunately, it’s not common to see this plant flower domestically, even less so indoors.
When it does bloom, the inflorescence is a partially hidden 3″ inch spike with unimpressive white to off-white flowers that many growers will simply pinch off in favor of the deep-green leaves.
Light and Temperature
Bright, indirect lighting is best for fittonia plants, although they can handle shade conditions if you don’t mind losing those vibrant colors.
Outdoors, dappled or medium light is a great choice, and indoors they’ll fare well under fluorescent lights or low lighting.
In the morning or evening, a bit of full sun is okay, but avoid the full sun or direct sunlight for long periods or during midday, as it can cause leaf burn.
Coming from tropical rainforests, humidity levels are very important for this plant.
It will do well under moderate household humidity, especially in a kitchen or bathroom, but prefers 60% – 90% percent ambient humidity when possible.
This may be achieved with a wet pebble tray, regular misting, or a room humidifier.
You likely won’t find one of these plants in a garden outside of USDA hardiness zones 11 to 12 due to their low cold tolerance.
Container plants may be brought outdoors in cooler climates during warm months.
Temperature-wise, it’s best to keep this plant above 55° degrees Fahrenheit, with 60 to 80° degrees Fahrenheit preferred.
Under no circumstances should you expose it to temperatures below 50° degrees Fahrenheit or expose it to airflows, such as in front of an AC unit or heater.
Watering and Feeding
This plant can scare some people and prove comical for others due to its dramatic performance when you forget to water it.
If left without water for a few days, the plant will suddenly “faint,” collapsing as if the plant is dying.
While watering will remedy this almost immediately, frequent fainting spells can harm the plant over time.
Thankfully, this plant thrives with the soak-and-dry method.
In the particular case of Fittonia albivenis, you will want to perform the soak when the soil is dry ¼ down the depth of the pot (i.e., 2″ inches in an 8″ inch deep pot, 1.5″ inches in a 6″ inch pot, etc.)
A monthly dose of balanced liquid houseplant fertilizer or balanced 5-5-5 fertilizer diluted to half strength (5-5-5 is a good percentage) works best.
Feed during spring and summer and hold back during fall and winter.
Soil and Transplanting
Mosaic plants love good loamy soil, and most peat-based mixes and tropical potting mixes will work well.
Be sure it has plenty of drainage holes but also retains some moisture, and aim for a slightly acidic pH.
You will need to repot this plant annually in spring or early summer, ensuring it has fresh soil each time.
Repotting nerve plants every year in the spring or summer will keep your plant healthy.
Grooming and Maintenance
This plant can grow fairly slowly but will pick up the pace in the right conditions, so you may need to prune occasionally.
Pinch off the stem tips to prevent leggy growth and encourage a more dense appearance.
Some growers also chose to pinch off the flower spikes so the plant won’t waste resources on blooming.
How To Propagate Mosaic Plant
Spring is a great time for propagation, and you can do so through air layering and stem and leaf cuttings.
For stem cuttings, do this in late spring or early summer for the best results.
When cutting, use a clean, sharp knife or a garden shear and ensure the cuttings have at least two leaf nodes.
Nerve Plant Pests or Diseases
This plant is highly sensitive to drought and cold.
The disease isn’t usually an issue, although it’s susceptible to common problems like leaf spots and rots.
Mealybugs are the most insect problems, but aphids, fungus gnats, scale, slugs and snails, and spider mites are also common pests known to infest Fittonias.
You can control infestation using insecticidal soap or neem oil.
This plant and its cultivars are completely safe around humans and pets.
Fittonia Albivenis Uses
Their trailing habit makes them perfect for hanging baskets, where they’ll put your spider plant to shame. They also make lovely creeping ground cover in filtered sun locations in zones 11 to 12.
Nerve plants also make excellent temperamental plants in covered gardens, bottled gardens, or terrariums.
Due to their love of humidity, this species – and especially its dwarf cultivars – are a great choice for terrariums.
Traditionally, natives used this species to treat headaches and muscle pain, and it was even used as a hallucinogen by the Machiguenga at one point.
The plant has been the subject of research for pharmaceutical use, although no studies have been conducted on its supposed hallucinogenic effects.