The Fittonia plant is a lovely tropical houseplant which grows in USDA hardiness zone 11.
Fittonia does well in terrariums, hanging baskets and on desk and table tops.
This pretty, colorful plant grows wild as a ground cover in the jungles of Peru.
In this article, we describe the many varieties of Fittonia and share advice for keeping this plant successfully in your home or office. Read on to learn more.
Why Is The Fittonia Plant So Popular?
Fittonia is a remarkably pretty plant with its deep green leaves and decorative veining. The veins in the leaves come in a number of colors, including white, silver, pink, red and purple.
In addition to being colorful, Fittonia is a small (though enthusiastically spreading) plant that does quite well in low lighting.
These qualities make it the perfect choice for brightening up various small nooks and crannies around your home or office.
Quick Facts About Fittonia
These plants hail from South America (mostly Peru). Their botanical name honors Sarah May and Elizabeth Fittonia who were well-known botanical authors during the 1800s.
Botanical Name:Fittonia verschaffeltii [fit-toe’ nee-ah ver-schaf-felt’ tee-ii]
Common Names: Nerve Plant, Mosaic Plant, Painted Leaf Plant, Snakeskin Plant, Silver Nerve, Painted Net Leaf
Family: Acanthaceae, Acanthus
Size & Growth: These plants do not typically grow more than 6″ high, but they do tend to spread.
Foliage: The leaves are 2-4″ long and may be either oval or elliptic. They are typically olive green with bright, colorful veining. Leaves grow in pairs on opposite sides of rambling, mat-forming, freely rooting stems.
Flowers: In the best conditions Fittonia produces long, reddish or white bract spikes bearing small, insignificant white or yellow scentless flowers. This is a rare occurrence for houseplants.
Light Requirements: These plants do well in low or medium natural light or fluorescent lighting. They can also do well in bright, indirect light. Direct sunlight will cause the leaves to shrivel.
Water Requirements: The soil should be kept uniformly moist. If Fittonia dries out, it collapses. Be careful not to overwater, though. Too much water and/or poor drainage causes yellowed leaves.
Humidity Requirements: These plants like high (60-70%) humidity levels. Dry air causes leaves to shrivel. Regular misting can help, or keep your Fittonia in a terrarium setting for constant high humidity.
Temperature Requirements: 65°-75° degrees Fahrenheit is ideal. Don’t allow the temperature to drop below 60°degrees Fahrenheit.
Soil Requirements: Fittonia likes the same sort of soil as African violets. Purchase or create a light peat or coco coir based mixture that retains moisture well.
Fertilizer: Use a balanced, liquid fertilizer formulated for houseplants. Feeding schedule varies depending upon the results you want.
Propagation: This rambling ground cover roots very easily. Simply root two-inch stem tip cuttings in moist potting mixture. Keep the cuttings in a warm, humid place. You should see roots within a couple of weeks.
Pests & Problems: Watch out for Aphids, Mosaic Virus, Leaf Spots and Root Rot.
Growth Habit & Best Uses: Plant in large, shallow pots or as a “ground cover” around taller plants in large pots. Keep as a specimen plant in a terrarium, or take advantage of the plant’s rambling ways by keeping it in a hanging basket.
Lifespan & Season: Individual plants are fairly short-lived and may die back after only a couple of years, but the plant strives year-round to put down roots and grow new plants.
Difficulty Quotient: If you are able to provide constant warmth and high humidity, Fittonia is easy to grow. If not, the challenges are constant and failure is fairly well assured.
How To Grow Nerve Plant
Remember that these plants naturally grow on the jungle floor in the tropics, so they like low lighting.
Even so, you can keep your Nerve Plant in a bright window, as long as you filter the sunlight with a sheer curtain.
Brighter light encourages brighter colors, but direct sunlight will sear the leaves.
When it comes to watering, you must strike a happy medium between dry and soggy soil.
Like all plants, Fittonia will suffer from root rot if you keep the soil too wet.
Check frequently, and only water when the surface of the potting soil begins to dry out.
Try to keep and evenly moist soil. Always water with room temperature water to avoid shocking the roots.
To maintain constant humidity, you may wish to keep your Nerve Plant in a terrarium.
Alternately, a naturally humid setting such as a bathroom or kitchen could work.
Other ways to boost humidity include misting, setting your plant on a tray of wet pebbles and/or setting up a room humidifier.
If you plan to be away for a few days, draping a clear plastic bag or plastic wrap over your plants to help them retain moisture and humidity while you are gone.
Be sure to set up some sort of framework to prevent the plastic from lying directly against the leaves.
You can keep your Nerve Plant well-fed with a general purpose fertilizer for houseplants.
To encourage growth, fertilize as often as once a month, but once every two or three months is recommended.
Be sure to feed your plant a minimum of two times yearly.
Nerve Plant Care Problems & Pests
Because these plants do have very specific environmental requirements, quite a few things can go wrong. Watch out for:
#1 – Leaves turning brown and withering around the edges: This may be caused by dry air or dry soil. Check the soil to be sure it is slightly damp, and take steps to increase humidity.
#2 – Withered Leaves: If too much salt builds up in the soil, leaves will wither.
Reduce the amount of sodium in the soil by drenching the plant with water and allowing the water to run through the soil until it is completely clear.
When your plant recovers, repot it into fresh soil and/or simply make new plants using tip and stem cuttings.
#3 – Patches of dark gray mildew on leaves: If conditions are too dry, mildew spots will appear.
Trim off the affected leaves, and try covering your plant with a clear plastic bag or plastic wrap (as described above) to boost humidity.
#4 – Leaves turning yellow: This is a sign of overwatering. Always use a pot with ample drainage holes in the bottom.
Be sure to use a loose, well-draining soil mix. Pay close attention to your watering schedule. Don’t overdo it!
#5 – Leaves Dropping: If the room temperature is too cold, or if the plant is exposed to intermittent cold drafts, leaf drop can occur.
Remember to keep the temperature warm and constant. Don’t place your plant too close to a door or a window that allows cold drafts to enter.
#6 – Leaves Shriveling: This can happen because the air is too dry or because the plant is getting too much sun. Remember to keep humidity high and direct sunlight low for Fittonia.
#7 – Aphids: As with most houseplants, aphids can be a problem for Fittonia.
Avoid introducing aphids to your houseplant collection by carefully examining every new plant you bring in.
Look for the insects, themselves and for the sooty mold and honeydew that accompany them.
Keep new plants isolated for a few weeks to be sure they are pest-free. If you do find aphids on your plants, try washing the plant with a strong stream of water.
This may be all that’s needed to knock aphids off for good.
Snails & Slugs: If you keep your Snakeskin Plant outdoors in the summer, you may also have problems with snails and slugs.
The cool, damp, dark environment provided by the leaves is perfect for these gastropods, and they enjoy eating Fittonia plants.
If you begin to notice holes in the plant’s leaves, suspect snails or slugs.
The best way to get rid of them is to simply pick them off and dispose of them.
How Do You Propagate Fittonia?
It’s actually pretty hard not to propagate Fittonia once you‘ve set up a conducive environment.
The rambling plant grows readily from tip cuttings and rooted stem pieces. It is also easy to layer stems from one pot to another.
These ground-covering plants love to travel and spread along the soil, and they put down new roots everywhere they go.
When you see that a stem is sprouting roots, you can cut it off and give it its own pot.
Alternately, put fresh soil in a pot and set it alongside the “parent plant.”
Direct the rooting stem into the fresh soil and let it take hold. Once it’s established, snip the connection between the parent and the new plant.
If you want to take cuttings, you can trim off 2-4″ tip cuttings or trim longer stem cuttings into 2-4″ sections.
Be sure that each section has a couple of growth nodes. Plant them in a fresh soil mix at an angle or horizontally.
Keep your cuttings in a warm setting (75° to 85° degrees Fahrenheit), and drape a piece of perforated plastic over them to keep humidity levels high.
When the stems set down roots, you can remove the plastic.
How Many Types Of Fittonia Are There?
Once you have established the perfect growing environment for Fittonia, you will naturally want to branch out and collect some of the many different types.
There are variations with white, red, pink, purple and even silvery veins (aka: argyroneura or silver nerves).
There are also small-leaved varieties, known as Nana cultivars. These compact plants are very popular and easy to grow.
Veining patterns also vary from one type of Fittonia to another. For example, some varieties feature a very dramatic fishbone pattern.
Here are some of the more popular and unusual Fittonia cultivars available today:
- Red Anne – a great terrarium plant. This small plant has green leaves variegated in shades of deep reddish/pink.
- Leather-Leaf – loves dimly lit settings. This striking plant has large white leaves with veins in a brighter shade of white.
- Josan – a festive medium-sized plant, bright green leaves and sharply contrasting red veins.
- White Anne – very pale green/white leaves, does well in small spaces with low lighting.
- Mini Superba – very large leaves with pink veins, yet maintains a compact growth habit.
- Purple Vein – large leaved plant. Deep green leaves and the veins are purple.
- White Brocade – large green leaves with bold white veins. It does very well in low light.
- Pink Angel – very compact growth habit. It’s leaves are bright pink and very small.
- Angel Snow – a small, pretty plant with dark green leaves and bright, white veins.
- Forest Flame – a compact plant with small green leaves and brilliant red veins.
- Stripes Forever – very small, dark leaves abundantly striped with white veins.
- Mini White – a very small plant with miniature green leaves and white veins.
- Fortissimo – a large plant with bright green leaves and reddish/pink veins.
- Titanic – small variety with deep green leaves and bold white veins.
- Red Star – very small green leaves striped with deep reddish/pink.
- Pink Vein – big, wavy leaves and its veins are deep reddish pink.
- Red Vein – large plant with big leaves veined in reddish/pink.
- Black Star – very dark leaves with deep reddish/purple veins.
- Juanita – very large, dark green leaves and bright red veins.
- Mini Red Vein – very small leaves with dark red/pink veins.
- Pink Star – very small, wavy leaves with broad, pink veins.
- Superba – very large leaves and bright white veins.
- Ruby Red – deep green leaves and dark red veins.
- Argyroneura – small green leaves and silvery veins.
- Daisy – big greenish/gray leaves with white veins.
- Frankie – deep green leaves tinged with pink.
Once you have a good tropical environment set up for your Fittonia, you can add even more interest to your collection with attractive tropicals that bring out the best in your Fittonia.
Plant them together in flower windows, terrariums or large, indoor planters.
3 Fittonia Buying Tips
#1 – When you are just starting out, you may find you have better luck with smaller leaved varieties.
#2 – Springtime is the best time to start out with Fittonia. Purchase small plants or start cuttings early in the spring. Establish them in broad, shallow pots for overwintering.
#3 – Remember that Fittonia may not be clearly identified. Be on the lookout for it under its other, common names (Nerve Plant, Mosaic Plant, Painted Leaf Plant, Snakeskin Plant, Silver Nerve, Painted Net Leaf).
Enjoy Fittonia All Year Round
These tropical plants have no “down” time. When you provide them with the right setting, they grow and prosper all year round.
Setting up a tropical retreat in your home allows you to collect these pretty plants and enjoy a lush, green, living, growing space throughout the year.
Remember to maintain a consistent, warm temperature and high humidity in your plant space.
Keep your plants fresh and healthy by trimming off any damaged leaves.
Depending on how you have potted your plants, you can train them to ramble along or spill over the sides of hanging baskets.
If you want a more compact appearance on some plants, pinch them back regularly to encourage branching and a more compact growth habit.
In the springtime, evaluate your plants to see which ones are in need of repotting. Because these plants have shallow roots, you may not need to repot every spring.