There are quite a few popular tropical plants grown for their foliage, but many of them are toxic to pets.
Today, we’re looking at a species that’s not only perfectly safe for you and your pets but is one of the most striking perennial houseplants you can own: the nerve plant – Fittonia.
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 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 & Growth
These plants are fairly small, ranging from a mature height 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 be 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 leaves.
Indirect Light & Temperature
Bright, indirect lighting is best for this plant, although it can handle shade conditions if you don’t mind losing those vibrant colors.
Outdoors, dappled light is a great choice, and indoors they’ll fare well under fluorescent grow lamps.
In the morning or evening, a bit of full sun is okay, but avoid the full sun for long periods or during midday, as the leaves scorch easily.
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 pebble tray, frequent misting, or a 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 (5-5-5 is a good percentage) diluted to half works best.
Feed during spring and summer and hold back during fall and winter.
Soil & Transplanting
Mosaic plants love a good loamy soil, and most peat-based mixes will work well, as will most tropical potting mixes.
Be sure it has plenty of drainage and aim for a slightly acidic pH.
You will need to repot this plant annually in spring or early summer, making sure it has fresh soil each time.
Grooming And Maintenance
This plant can grow fairly slow 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 as well as stem and leaf cuttings.
Nerve Plant Pests or Diseases
This plant is highly sensitive to drought and cold.
Disease isn’t usually an issue, although it’s susceptible to leaf spots and rots.
Mealybugs are the most common pest, but aphids, fungus gnats, scale, slugs and snails, and spider mites are also known to infest Fittonias.
This plant and its cultivars are completely safe around humans and pets.
Fittonia albivenis Uses
In zones 11 to 12, nerve plants are used as ground cover.
Their trailing habit makes them perfect for hanging baskets, where they’ll put your spider plant to shame.
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 was even used as a hallucinogen by the Machiguenga at one point.
The plant has been the subject of research for pharmaceutical use, although there have yet to be any studies on its supposed hallucinogenic effects.