Nerve plants are known by many names, including mosaic or vein plants, but their scientific name is Fittonia. These plants are native to South America, where they serve primarily as ground cover, but they are popular houseplants due to their unique look.
Nerve plants are also popular on social media because their bright colors make them so photogenic. They're very easy to care for, so new plant parents should definitely look to add them to their repertoire.
Nerve plants originate in the tropics. To get the best growth, try to recreate that environment, starting with the soil. Fittonia prefers well-draining soil with a lot of organic material, which you'll find in peat-based potting mix.
Nerve plants prefer temperatures about 60 degrees F, so they are usually grown as indoor plants, though in some tropical climates, you may be able to grow them successfully outside.
How much space you need for your nerve plant depends on the variety. The most common fittonia sold as house plants generally don't grow that tall, maxing out at around six inches. That said, they can get quite bushy — up to 18 inches wide — so make sure you have enough room for that potential spread.
In their native habitat, nerve plants spread across the ground of rain forests, which explains why they prefer partial shade or indirect sunlight. North-facing windows are best, but you can also place them in a corner or behind a curtain sheer in rooms with east or west-facing windows.
If these plants get too much sunlight, the leaves will burn and get crispy.
The most difficult part of caring for a nerve plant is making sure it gets the right amount of water. Letting the soil dry out results in the plant collapsing and wilting. Generally, the plant will bounce back if you water it right away, but it's best not to let this happen.
Water your nerve plant when the top layer of the soil is dry. Soak the soil thoroughly, then let it drain completely to avoid excess water collecting in the bottom of the pot.
Common pests to worry about with a nerve plant are aphids and mealybugs. Aphids are not always easy to catch early. These small, soft-bodied insects can stunt plant growth, but they are generally easy to treat. You can often spray them off with a stream of water or remove them by hand.
Mealybugs appear on the leaves and stems as white fluff. Minor infestations just stunt growth, but they can quickly escalate and cause plant death if not treated with neem oil or insecticide.
Nerve plants are not generally predisposed to disease, though they may get leaf spot, a bacterial infection that causes the leaves to die. Unfortunately, there is no cure for this disease. Nerve plants with leaf spot should be destroyed so that they do not infect other plants.
Nerve plants can also suffer from blight, a fungus that affects the entire plant but is most often seen on the leaves and stems. There is no cure for blight.
Nerve plants grow very quickly, and proper pruning is essential to prevent them from getting leggy. If you prefer a dense, bushy plant, pinch the ends off the growing stems regularly. Some people also recommend cutting off the flower spikes. Nerve plants will flower, but the buds are generally not as attractive as the leaves. Removing the flower spikes encourages the plant to continue growing more leaves.
Nerve plants generally grow pretty quickly, which makes propagating them easy. Use sterile scissors to take a node cutting in the late spring or early summer. Cut at an angle, and make sure your cutting has at least two nodes (bumps where another leaf would grow). Put the cutting into peat-based potting soil. Roots typically appear in about three weeks.
If you try this method and are unsuccessful, use a rooting hormone the next time. Rooting hormones can stimulate root growth in less-than-perfect conditions, but they aren't usually necessary.
Some tribes in the Amazon are said to have used nerve plants to treat muscle pain and headaches, but the biggest benefit of having one of these plants in your home is that they are so colorful and nice to look at while also being so easy to care for. They also make great gifts for people who are unfamiliar with houseplants.
There are many varieties of nerve plants to choose from, each with unique features. Angel snow fittonias feature smaller leaves with white veins, while the Stripes Forever variety has darker green leaves with stripe-like veins.
Ruby red nerve plants have red veins, and the Juniata and pink angel varieties have pink. For more color, go for the red star with its dense red patches or the Frankie for leaves that are more pink than green.