If you're looking for a plant that will thrive in a low-light environment, look no further than a nerve plant ( Fittonia albivenis ). It's a reliable plant with striking foliage that brightens even the darkest spaces.
Nerve plants, members of the Fittonia genus, get their name from their appearance. It has dramatically contrasting foliage—deep green leaves are veined with pink, white, or red, the look of which recalls the many-veined nervous system. Fittonia species are also occasionally known as mosaic plants, though typically reserved for Ludwigia sedoides . Nerve plants are spreading evergreen perennials, keeping that striking foliage all year. Depending on climate conditions, a nerve plant can grow as creeping ground cover in shady areas.
If other plants have yet to adapt to the low light in your home, try a nerve plant. This compact, low-maintenance houseplant with distinctive foliage and minimal light requirements is excellent for placing small pots on tabletops, bookshelves, and desks in homes or offices.
|Common Name:||Nerve Plant, Mosaic Plant, Jewel Plant, Silver Threads, Painted Net Leaf|
|Botanical Name:||Fittonia albivenis|
|Plant Type:||Perennial, Groundcover|
|Mature Size:||3–6 in. tall, 12-18 in. spread|
|Sun Exposure:||Partial, Indirect|
|Soil Type:||Moist but Well-drained|
|Soil pH:||Acidic (6.5)|
|Flower Color:||Red, White|
|Hardiness Zones:||Zones 11 (USDA)|
|Native Area:||South America|
Nerve Plant Care
The nerve plant grows beautifully as a houseplant when meeting the necessary conditions. These plants thrive in indirect, filtered light and need regular watering. Nerve plants are especially suited to dark spaces and can grow even with low light. A nerve plant's leaves will scorch if placed in a too-sunny spot, as it is susceptible to leaf burn. Keep it away from the hot sun, and give it low to medium light. Try filtering direct sunlight with a sheer curtain if placed near a sunny window.
Nerve plant species crave high humidity and grow best when their soil is kept evenly moist. If your nerve plant isn't getting enough water, it will droop dramatically. Keep an eye on it, and give it a drink of water by soaking the soil evenly, allowing excess moisture to drain from the planter. That should help your nerve plant perk up again.
The nerve plant prefers humid environments resembling its native tropical climate. Recreate a moist setting when growing the nerve plant as a houseplant, but don't place it in direct sunlight. Nerve plants prefer bright, indirect sunlight from natural light or under fluorescent lights. If putting it near a window that will receive afternoon sunlight, add shear curtains to prevent leaf burn.
Nerve plants grow best in moist, well-draining soil that is slightly acidic. When growing in containers, a peat moss base helps support water draining. If you don't want to use peat moss, use a mixture of equal parts potting mix, peat, humus, and coarse sand.
During the growing season, water nerve plants every three to four days, but allow the soil to dry completely between watering. It's essential to keep the soil moist rather than oversaturate the plant, which causes yellow or limp leaves—winter or off-season requires less water, usually once every few weeks. Nerve plants are susceptible to collapse if allowed to dry out.
Temperature and Humidity
Nerve plants thrive in conditions similar to their native tropical environments. Humidity is essential for these plants to thrive, so misting plants will help retain moisture. When grown indoors, nerve plants do well in bathrooms with showers because of the steam, in terrariums, or in a room with a humidifier during the winter. Keep temperatures around 70°F, at least within the 60°F to 80°F range for best results.
Nerve plants benefit from a balanced 5-5-5 fertilizer during their growing season during the spring and summer—dilute it to half strength. Fertilizers designed for tropical plants can amend growth if needed during this time. Don't fertilize nerve plants in the fall or winter when growth naturally slows down.
Types of Nerve Plants
There are lots of different color combinations of nerve plants available for purchase. The foliage colors help name many of the selections.
- 'Pink Angel': A nerve plant with bright pink veins in deep green leaves.
- 'Purple Vein': Lavender striped plant.
- 'Leather Leaf': A nerve plant with big foliage and white veins.
- 'Daisy': A plant with large, variegated leaves in shades of white, grey, and green.
Nerve plants only require a little pruning when grown in the right conditions because this keeps the plant looking full. Pruning is necessary when the nerve plant gets too leggy, but there are three easy steps to fix it. First, pinch back the stems with your fingers or pruning shears about a quarter of an inch above its leaf node. Next, remove flower spikes which can appear when growing a nerve plant under artificial light since it rarely blooms. Remove the flower spikes as soon as they emerge, so it does not weaken the leaves. Finally, maintain proper indirect lighting, as too much or too little encourages leggy growth.
Propagating Nerve Plants
Nerve plants can propagate from stem-tip cuttings or seeds, but seeds are less effective. Take stem-tip cuttings in late spring or early summer for the best results. Here's how to propagate using stem-tip cuttings:
- Use a clean, sharp knife or a garden shear to cut the stem tips at an angle. Use a stem that contains at least two leaf nodes below the cutting for the best results—make the cutting around four inches.
- If you are concerned about your temperature conditions, dipping the cuttings in a rooting hormone before planting might help.
- Place the bottom of the cutting in a pot or container filled with peat-based soil. Plant the stem tips in the container directly after cutting it from the original plant in the spring or summer.
- Keep the soil moist and well-drained. New root growth should sprout within two to three weeks of planting.
How to Grow Nerve Plants From Seed
Nerve plants can start from seeds collected from an existing plant or purchased at a garden center. Sowing seeds is a more challenging way to start nerve plants because it is less likely to succeed. After collecting or purchasing seeds, sow them in pots and place them in a location at is at least 65°F. Cover the containers with a thin layer of peat moss soil mixture. Keep the seeds moist. Seedlings should emerge in about three weeks.
Potting and Repotting Nerve Plants
To keep nerve plants healthy, repot the plants every year in the spring or summer before new growth initiates. Use fresh potting soil or peat moss mixture to help support water drainage. Make sure to use a container with water drainage holes.
Nerve plants grow in humid environments, so they commonly go dormant or stop growing in the winter. Out of the growing season, nerve plants need minor maintenance and less water. Do not fertilize your nerve plant in the winter because you don't want to encourage growth in colder temperatures. Pruning is also unnecessary, but keep nerve plants in indirect sunlight and in a location that offers some protection from the cold. Using a room humidifier can help create the moist, humid environment that nerve plants love.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
Nerve plants are susceptible to insect problems, including mealybugs, scales, spider mites, slugs, aphids, and fungus gnats. Treat pests with insecticidal oil, like neem oil. If you notice small holes in the nerve plant's foliage, this is a sign of leaf beetles.
Some diseases are also associated with the nerve plant, including root rot, leaf spot diseases, and powdery mildew. The best way to prevent these diseases is by properly circulating air and maintaining moist foliage that isn't overly saturated. If leaves appear covered in white powder, try insecticidal soap to remove the coating gently. If it persists and the foliage is yellowing or browning, remove damaged stems before it infects the entire plant.
Common Problems With Nerve Plants
Leaves Turning Yellow
Yellowing leaves are typically a sign of overwatering. Make sure to let the soil drain entirely before watering again. Maintaining the balance between moist and dry soil will depend on the fertilizer, soil nutrients, and temperature conditions. Use your fingers to feel if the first inch is dry before watering. Also, make sure to use a container with drainage holes.
Leaf drop occurs when a nerve plant is dehydrated or during winter when temperatures drop. The nerve plant might be dormant depending on your environment and the time of year. Placing containers in areas with indirect sunlight that mimics the nerve plant's native tropical environment will help stabilize it—bathrooms with showers are an option because it provides warm steam. A room humidifier in the winter can also be beneficial to keep the plant from direct sunlight, which could cause leaf burn.