One look at its bold patterned foliage and its clear to see where the nerve plant or mosaic plant gets its names. This dramatic appearance makes it a stunning houseplant to keep in any room.
The nerve plant (Fittonia albivenis), also known as the mosaic plant, is a houseplant with stunning foliage that is surprisingly easy to care for. Here is everything you need to know about the origin of the nerve plant, how to care for it and how to propagate more of this funky houseplant.
Nerve plant: origin and characteristics
The Fittonia genus contains just two species. One of which is the houseplant Fittonia albivenis, commonly referred to as the nerve plant or mosaic plant. The second species Fittonia gigantea is only sometimes cultivated as an indoor plant. Depending on the species, the nerve plant reaches heights of between 15 and 80cm. The herbaceous, creeping plant originates from the tropical rainforests of South America, where it is at home in warm and humid locations. The most striking feature of the nerve plant is undoubtedly its patterned leaves, which display an amazing variety of colours depending on the variety. When grown indoors, the mosaic plant does not usually flower, whereas in nature, small white-yellow blossoms appear on the plant’s flower spikes.
Fact: The genus of plants Fittonia was named in honour of the botanist sisters Elizabeth and Sara Fitton. They published a book on botany in 1867 which first popularised this beautiful plant.
The most beautiful nerve plant varieties
There are several nerve plant varieties, which differ mainly in the colour and size of their leaves. Generally, nerve plants only grow to about 15cm high, have distinctive leaf veins, and come in a wide range of colours:
- Silver nerve fittonia (Fittonia albivenis ‘Minima’): This variety has small, delicate green with silver veins and grows only a few centimetres in height.
- Fittonia albivenis ‘Red Anne’: The red coloured leaves of this variety are larger than those of the small mosaic plant.
- Fittonia albivenis ‘Pink Forest Flame’: If you would like a pink fittonia, this variety is a good choice. The leaves look pale pink due to the plant’s bright pink veins.
- Fittonia albivenis ‘Pearcei’: Like ‘Red Anne’, this variety has red leaf veins. However, ‘Pearcei’ nerve plants, also called snakeskin plants, produce more leaves that are more densely packed together.
Note: There are two mosaic plant species that can be kept as houseplants. In addition to the Fittonia albivenis, the Fittonia gigantea is great for indoor cultivation. Fittonia gigantea is somewhat larger and grows up to 80cm tall. Its individual leaves, which grow to a maximum of 10cm long, have red leaf veins. The diversity of the Fittonia gigantea is less cultivated and so far limited to the original varieties.
Planting nerve plants: where and how
Having adapted to grow naturally on rainforest floors, fittonia feels at home in a bright place out of direct sunlight. This promotes healthy and compact growth and helps the leaves to develop an intense colour. Nerve plants also need warmth and a high humidity between 60 and 90%. Bright bathrooms, for example, are the perfect spot. At a south-facing window, make sure your mosaic plant is shaded, at least in summer, as direct sunlight causes leaf damage.
Nerve plants are not too demanding when it comes to warmth: normal room temperature is warm enough. In winter, however, make sure that the temperature does not fall below 16°C, as mosaic plants react sensitively to this. On the other hand, these tropical houseplants do not like temperatures above 35°C.
Since mosaic plants are slow growers that love high humidity, terrarium and bottle gardens are also a great way to cultivate them, as long as you provide enough light. Aquariums are not ideal for mosaic plants because they do not tolerate complete submersion in water.
Spring is the best time to pot or repot fittonia, as this gives the plant time to develop new roots over the summer. Use a high-quality potting soil. A drainage layer and drainage hole at the bottom of the pot will help prevent any waterlogging.
Nerve plant care
Regular watering and fertilising are essential for good mosaic plant care. High humidity is also necessary to keep your fittonia happy and healthy.
When watering the mosaic plant, the rule of thumb is little but often. This means watering the plant as soon as the surface of the soil in the pot is dry. Avoid prolonged dryness, as this causes stress for the plant. If the leaves begin to droop, it is definitely time to water. On the other hand, the nerve plant’s soil should neither be permanently wet nor should the pot stand in water, as this leads to root rot.
To keep the humidity high, spray your mosaic plants with water from time to time. Alternatively, place the pot on a saucer filled with expanded clay balls and water. This way, water evaporates from the saucer without the mosaic plant getting too wet.
To support healthy growth and prevent nutrient deficiencies over time, apply a liquid fertiliser like our Plantura Liquid Houseplant Food regularly when watering. In summer, make sure to fertilise once a fortnight and in winter just once a month.
Because nerve plants shed their lower leaves over time, leaving only leaves on the upper part of the shoots, it is worth pruning them every so often. Pruning has two advantages: first, it stimulates branching, which makes the plant bushier and more compact. The second advantage is that the plant’s pruned shoot tips can be used for propagation. It is possible to prune nerve plants all year round. However, the best time to prune nerve plants is in spring, as this allows the cut shoots to form new roots during the summer.
Nerve plant propagation
The mosaic plant is easy to propagate by cuttings, division or from seed.
Propagating nerve plants by cuttings
To do this, cut off roughly 10cm long shoots in spring. Prune all leaves from the lover half of the shoot and then plant it in moist soil. Place the pots with the cuttings in a bright place out of direct sunlight. Keep the soil moist and the air humid, either with the use of a propagator or by placing a plastic bag over the pot. At 18°C, the cutting should take root after about two weeks.
Propagating nerve plants by division
In spring, large mosaic plants can be divided, which can be conveniently done when repotting. To divide mosaic plants, simply separate the root ball into several rooted sections by hand. At 18°C it does not take long for the parts of the mosaic plant to take root in fresh soil as independent plants.
Sowing nerve plants seeds
If you have been able to collect seeds from your nerve plants or have bought seeds, sow several of them in pots at 18°C and cover them with a thin layer of soil. Nerve plant seedlings will appear after just three weeks.
Are nerve plants poisonous?
For households with children or pets, there is no need to worry about bringing nerve plants into your home. Fittonia plant leaves are not poisonous to humans or to animals.
Fittonias are the perfect example of the fact that ornamental plants don’t always have to display showy flowers. Read our article on plants with special foliage to discover even more.