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What is Fittonia?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 31 October 2016
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Fittonia is a genus of plants native to the tropical regions of South America. These plants have adapted to live in the warm, moist environment of tropical rainforests and can be seen in abundance in the wild. They are also cultivated in some regions of the world as houseplants, arboretum specimens, and greenhouse plants. Nurseries sometimes stock Fittonia and can order seedlings by request from customers.

These plants are creepers, growing low to the ground and expanding by forming mats. The foliage is roughly oval in shape with distinctive white veins referenced by the common names of nerve plant and mosaic plant. Some species produce dark green leaves, while others grow in red, white, or purple shades. The flowers are very small and not very noticeable. People growing the plants in cultivation tend to pinch the flowers off to promote the development of stronger, larger leaves.

Fittonia is slightly hairy, although the hairs are not sharp or irritating. The plant makes an excellent groundcover, in regions where people have an environment hospitable to members of this genus. As a houseplant, it can be grown in terrariums in homes that tend to be more dry, or in open pots in a home with high humidity or a dedicated gardener who will take time to mist the plant to maintain the moisture levels it prefers.

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Like other tropical rainforest plants, Fittonia benefits from warm temperatures, high humidity, and indirect light. These plants are adapted for the rich floor of the rainforest and prefer soil amended with compost and other organic materials. The soil should be rich and moist to keep the plant happy and fertilizer can be periodically added to keep the leaves healthy and large. The wet conditions needed can sometimes be conducive to the growth of mold and mildew and gardeners should remain alert to any signs of infection or disease in their plants.

Some Fittonia specimens will thrive in more variable conditions, like slightly dry offices, although they will remain small and may grow very slowly. To keep humidity levels up around the plant, people can do things like bagging it or sticking it in a large fishbowl. While these may not be aesthetically pleasing solutions to the humidity problem, they can be used to perk a straggling plant back up. Once the plant is healthier, it can be exposed to room air again and misted regularly to keep it healthy.

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