Adding tropical colors: Fittonia (Nerve plant)

Adding tropical colors: Fittonia (Nerve plant)
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If it would be up to me to give Fittonia a common name, I would call it Dollar-bill plant. Their leaves’ surface looks endurable rough and sophisticated at the same time, while the slightly raised veins seems to be stamped on the leaves with almost glowing paint. Somehow it is giving me a subtle visual reference to banknotes.

Fittonia albivenisWell, even without my contribution this plant already got many names. Botanist are not sure about how many species are there. The one readily available to the gardeners is Fittonia albivensis, while F. verschaffeltii and F. argyroneura are its  scientific synonymsIts common names in English are nerve plant, mosaic plant or silver plant.

In its native habitat in tropical Peru Fittonia is a creeper covering the ground in rain forests. It’s an evergreen perennial with small leaves and stalks reaching just 10–15 cm (4–6″) tall.

Fittonia albivenis (nerve plant) covering ground under large palm treeThose leaves are Fittonia’s main attraction, or rather its veins or nerves it is. They are coming in silvery white or in different brilliant shades of red. Some has such intense neon glowing it almost will hurt your eyes to look at. Others are almost entirely pink or white, where the coloration seams to overflow from the nerves to the whole leaf surface.

If you are into names you can find a bunch of named cultivars and varieties like ‘Angel snow’, ‘Forest Flame’, ‘Pink Star’, ‘Red Anne’, ‘White Anne’ and many more. Or you could just pick up something striking your attention and fitting the palette of your (indoor) garden or flat.

Fittonia argyroneura 'Frankie' (pink nerve plant)

Fittonia albivenis ‘Frankie’. Photo © Karl Gercens

Fittonia albivenis 'Kings Cross'

Fittonia albivenis ‘Kings Cross’. Photo © Mike Bush

Fittonia care indoors

Fittonia albivenis

Photo © agacsakal.com

When googling for Fittonia (nerve plant) care in pots or containers, you will probably end up with a pretty discouraging sentence that it is considered to be difficult. I couldn’t understand what exactly difficult could be about them, until I came across an explanation, that they used to be it before, but our day’s cultivars are well adapted to the indoors conditions. I guess some info is finding its way from old publications right into modern blogs and sites, without proving it by practice.

Planting

Fittonia albivenis

Photo © agacsakal.com

I bought two cultivars for about a year ago with just a few cute leaves in tiny planters. As a temporary solution, I decided to replant them into the first best thing I found – two round cookies boxes (not the fancy planters on the photo to the left here). Fittonia has shallow root system and loves spreading around. So it was perfect for them.

They will only need 5-8cm (2-3″) of light organic soil and a layer of pebbles or similar for drainage. You can give Fittonia a wider planter and pretty soon it will cover the surface by a striking carpet of its glowing leaves.

Watering

Just don’t forget to water them when the soil starts to get dry. If you don’t notice it in time, the plants will let you know. Their leaves will fade and stalks will fall down screaming for water. Give it to them, water it through and they will resurrect like nothing happened within about 10 minutes. Try not to make them scream at you too often so. Water in time. As for humidity they will love a daily shower from your spray bottle, just like any other tropical plants you grow. Also like most other tropical plants, even if Fittonia loves humidity, it doesn’t want its roots standing in water. So if you water to much, make sure you remove the excess water from the potting tray.

Fertilizing

Not particular picky or hungry for fertilizers, your Fittonia will be happy with getting some balanced liquid fertilizer about once a month. Slow release granules will last for two-three months. Don’t be to lavish. If in doubt about portion, less is better here.

Fittonia albivenis covering large planters

Photo © agacsakal.com

Right light conditions

Remember I told you, that in their native South American rain forests, nerve plants are to be find covering the ground under large trees there. The dense canopy is shielding the ground from the direct sun light so that only some heavily filtered light is getting down to the undergrowth. That is Fittonia’s optimal light conditions.

Corresponding conditions in your home would be definitely not a south facing window with harsh direct sun, but rather east, west or even north facing one. Some morning or evening sun is ok. Otherwise just place them behind some more sun loving plants. Cool daylight bulbs will also keep them happy.

You don’t want to place Fittonia too dark, as its brilliant color of the nerves will fade and the leaves will grow larger, making them less attractive.

Propagation

As a flowering plant Fittonia might flower sometimes indoors with small white and yellow flowers bracted in short spikes. Not much to write home about, but it might give you some seeds, which might germinate. A lot surer way to propagate it is by cuttings. Take a small cutting with a few leaves or even just one leaf and plant it directly into the soil. In a week or so (if keeping moist and warm) it will root and start growing on its own. Extremely easy!

Fittonia ideas

Fittonia in terrarium

Photo © agacsakal.com

Let’s start with Fittonia and terrariums, as it seems to be a match made in Heaven. These small plants fit perfectly even in the most uncapacious vessels. They don’t need much soil for their roots. They love humidity. Most important the bold colors will make your creation really stand out.

If you are planning to have animals in your terrarium, Fittonia is not toxic. So, like I said, this is a top candidate for your little biosphere.

Fittonia albivenis in wide planters

Photo © agacsakal.com

In planters you could use them anywhere in your home where you would like to have some color accent. Let them cover a square or a round, wide and shallow planter or group several planters together for a beautiful rug to let your eyes rest on.

Fittonia planted around palmIn group with some tall plants Fittonia looks great added around the base. After one year in those cookies’ boxes, I planted my two glowing nerve plants under one of my larger Christmas palms (Adonidia merrillii). Almost like the nature intended it to be.

Having now my own experience with Fittonia I can’t describe it other than very easy to care for.

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2 Comments on "Adding tropical colors: Fittonia (Nerve plant)"

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[…] Ground – the vegetation down here is adopted to plenty of humidity, while getting just 2% of the sun light available to the trees in the canopy layer above. Many of our tropical room plants are from here. So they can cope with the low light inside of our homes. Providing some extra humidity and right potting soil will open a possibility to grow a range of really exiting plants, like Caladiums and Fittonia. […]

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[…] mint order is represented by two colorful leafy plants: Fittonia albivenis, which I’ve been writing about and Plectranthus scuttellarioides, better known as […]

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