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Looking to add some texture to your indoor garden? The nerve plant might be a perfect option. This charming, compact tropical species is named for its contrasting white, pink, or red veins that pop against green, oval-shaped leaves. Nerve plants grow low along the floor of tropical jungles in their native habitat of South America, making them a great option to grow as houseplants in spaces with filtered light.
With its love of warmth and humidity, the nerve plant can be a bit finicky to get used to—but with the right growing conditions and a few simple tips, you’ll have a happy, healthy houseplant in no time.
- Botanical Name: Fittonia spp.
- Common Name: Nerve plant, fittonia, mosaic plant
- Plant Type: Evergreen herbaceous perennial
- Mature Size: 6 inches tall, 12 to 18 inches wide
- Sun Exposure: Bright, indirect light
- Soil Type: Well-draining soil that holds moisture
- Soil pH: 6.5
- Toxicity: Non-toxic
Pot your nerve plant in peat-based soil that drains well. You can make your own mix by combining equal parts potting mix, peat, humus, and coarse sand for drainage. Some growers also have good results with African violet soil. Water your plant often enough to keep its soil evenly moist, and never let it dry out completely. If the top inch of the soil starts to feel dry, it's time to add more water.
Feed your nerve plant with houseplant fertilizer diluted to half-strength every month during the spring and summer growing seasons. When you first bring it home, it’s a good idea to let your plant acclimate to its new environment for three or four months before feeding it.
Because they're compact and love humidity, nerve plants are a great option to grow as terrarium plants.
Best Growing Conditions for Nerve Plant
In order to thrive, your nerve plant needs warm, humid conditions reminiscent of its jungle environment. Choose a spot away from cold drafts or drying air from heat or air conditioning vents. The ideal temperature range for this species is between 75 and 85 degrees during the day and no lower than 65 degrees at night. Because nerve plants need a high level of humidity, they often thrive as bathroom plants thanks to the extra steam from the shower.
Nerve plants do well with bright, indirect light, but can also tolerate slightly lower-light conditions than many houseplants. Displaying them in a north or east-facing windowsill is a great option, or you can keep the plant a few feet from a south or west-facing window. Make sure that this plant isn't placed in any direct rays from the sun, which can burn its leaves.
If your nerve plant is overwatered, you'll notice yellowing on its leaves along with some drooping. Underwatered plants will appear dry and feel crisp to the touch. Adjust your plant's watering schedule based on its symptoms and the moisture level in its soil.
Types of Nerve Plant
The attractive veining on your nerve plant’s green leaves can range from silvery white to pink or bright red, depending on the cultivar. There are also several variegated cultivars that feature swatches of white, cream, or pale yellow on the leaf edges.
Fittonia verschaffeltii, or ‘Super Red,’ looks more red than green with its dense veining and vivid red coloring. Fittonia argyoneura is lined with elegant white veining, while Fittonia verschaffeltii pearcei, or ‘Juanita,’ features deeper green leaves with veining ranging from pink to tan. The 'Purple Vein’ variant has large green leaves with lavender-pink veins.
How to Propagate Nerve Plant
Nerve plants can be propagated from stem cuttings. Propagation is easiest and fastest during the spring when the plant is actively growing, but it can be done any time during the warm months of the year. Here's how:
- Gather a pair of clean, sharp gardening scissors and a clear glass or jar.
- Examine the mother plant for a healthy stem about 3 inches long with several leaves.
- Use your shears to cut the stem at an angle just below a leaf node. Remove the leaves from the bottom inch of the stem. If your cutting has several leaves, you may want to remove all but the top two sets of leaves, which can help keep the cutting from wilting.
- Place your cutting in the glass, then fill it with tepid water so that at least two leaf nodes are submerged.
- Place the glass in a warm place with bright, indirect light, refreshing the water if it gets cloudy. Keep an eye out for roots, which should begin growing from the stem in about two weeks.
- When the cutting has several roots that are at least an inch long and you see new leaf growth, the cutting is ready to pot up and care for as usual. This can take anywhere from four to six weeks.
Common Problems With Nerve Plant
Nerve plants are fairly easy to care for, but they need plenty of water to stay healthy. Common growing problems for this species are usually caused by improper water needs. Here's how to diagnose and treat your plant:
Even a day of dry soil can cause your nerve plant’s leaves to wilt, feeling dry and crispy to the touch. A good soak will revive them, but repeated drying out will stress the plant and cause more damage. If this happens, pinch away any dried-out leaves and monitor the soil closely for moisture going forward. You may want to consider potting the plant in a container with an attached drip tray, as these pots tend to hold a little more water.
Even though this species prefers plenty of water, it's still possible to overwater your nerve plant. Limp, yellowing leaves are a sign of overwatering. Allow the soil to dry out and cut back on watering if you notice these signs.
Humidity is an especially important factor when it comes to growing healthy nerve plants. If you notice the plant's leaves beginning to curl at the edges, it's likely that the air is too dry. Add moisture to the room with a humidifier, plant mister, or by placing its pot atop a humidifying tray filled with pebbles and water. Fill the tray just below the top of the pebbles to create evaporation around your plant.
Potting and Repotting Nerve Plant
Like Tradescantia species, a nerve plant can look bushy and full during its first year of life but become leggy and scraggly as it ages. You can pinch back the leaf tips to encourage fuller growth, but this tactic only goes so far.
Repot this plant with fresh soil at the start of the growing season in spring or early summer. If your plant is outgrowing its pot, choose a container one size larger. To retain its full look, you can also start by rooting several cuttings and potting them up together to make a new plant. Water the plant thoroughly after repotting and place it in an area with bright, indirect light.
Are Nerve Plants Easy to Care For?
Nerve plants are generally regarded as easy houseplants to care for, but they can be finicky when it comes to their water needs. Ensure your plant is potted in a container with sufficient drainage holes, place it in an area with indirect light, and keep its soil consistently moist (but never soggy).
How Much Sun Does a Nerve Plant Need?
Nerve plants can survive in low light conditions, but they do best when grown in a spot that receives bright, indirect light. Place this species in a north- or east-facing window, or opt for a south-facing window with a sheer curtain to filter harsh rays from the sun and prevent sunburn.
Can Nerve Plants Grow Outside?
Since nerve plants prefer temperatures between 75 and 85 degrees, they shouldn't be grown outside in most areas outside of USDA Hardiness Zone 11. However, you can bring your nerve plant outside for the season once nighttime temperatures stay above 65 degrees. Ensure this plant is placed in a shady location safely away from direct sun when outside.
Terrariums. University of Missouri Extension. July 2017
Houseplant Diseases and Disorders. Clemson Cooperative Extension. August 7, 2018