Plant Journal: Fittonia the 'Drama Queen’
Fittonia is one of the most eye-catching plants. You'd instantly notice them in a garden center. It is widely distributed with hundreds of cultivars available worldwide. It is from South America and grows in the floor of the rainforest and that is why it is grown indoors in countries with temperate climate like Ireland.
Fittonias are also known as nerve plant or mosaic plant because of the colours of the veins on their foliage which can either be white (Argyroneura Group) or pink/red (Verschaffeltii Group).
This is my Fittonia albivensis I got from a garden center in Kildare last July. Albivensis means ’white veins’ and is included in the Argyroneura Group. Also, in this group are probably hundreds of cultivars that I didn't bother to check. You might find Fittonia albivensis somewhere that doesn't look like my one because of various unregistered cultivars and garden centers sometimes (actually, most of the time) don't bother to put the right label on their plants.
Fittonias, as mentioned above, have a 'mosaic-like' patterns on the leaves because of veins that are either white or red. The leaves have tiny furs and the petiole and stem have hairs. They are evergreen and grows in clumps or compact habit up to 4 inches (10 centimeters) in height. Other types of fittonia rarely flower but if it does in comes in bracts/inflorescence with small white flowers.
Here are some facts I found while reading online about these captivating plants.
When it is underwatered, the plant will 'droop' and look dead and will bounce back to life once watered, hence the name 'drama queen'. It usually comes back to life but frequent drought spells might kill it.
Fittonias are not toxic to plants, animals and people.
Soil. Since the plant loves humidity, a growing media that stores water and is not compacted would be perfect. For my plant, I used a houseplant potting mix and then i added a small cup of perlite just for added drainage.
Light. In the rainforest, fittonias don't get a lot of light because they are shaded by trees and shrubs because of that I put my plant in a shelf with indirect sunlight and are surrounded by other tropical plants.
Watering. Fittonias love humidity and throws tantrums when not watered properly. I usually water mine weekly just before the soil dries out. So far, I have never experienced a fainting episode. Also, I always use lukewarm water that I boiled that day to water all of my plants. I don't use tap water.
Humidity. They love humidity. The usual range of humidity in my apartment is between 60-70% and gets up to 85% while cooking and drops to 50% when the window is kept open. I bought a digital humidity meter for my apartment and it works well. To keep the humidity up, I sometimes put a moss mulch and keep it moist but it attracts fungus gnats. Another way is to put the pot on top of pebbles with water but make sure the roots or the lower part of the soil is not constantly in contact with water.
Since July, I am so happy to say that I have tried couple of methods of propagating this beaut and I will discuss it all in details and with pictures in this section.
For soil propagation, I used a piece of leaf with intact petiole. I buried the tip directly into moist soil without air drying. I then covered the takeaway container with cling film (refer to picture below).
The picture above was taken after 2 weeks and as you can see, it has tiny roots. I put it back and maybe check in another 2 weeks, it might be ready for planting then.
For water propagation, I used a stem cutting and a leaf cutting.
For the stem cutting, I cut out the tip with 3 pairs of leaves and took out the bottom 2 pairs. I then put it on a clear glass with clean water. The bottom tip is submerge while the top leaves are not.
For leaf cutting, I took a leaf with an intact petiole and put it in the same clear glass as where I put the stem cutting. I also made sure that only the petiole is in contact with water and not the leaf itself.
Don't mind the Hoya carnosa tricolor cutting, its propagation is another story.
Here is my water propagated fittonias after 2 weeks. Both cuttings have tiny roots. I plan to keep them there for another 2 weeks and maybe by then, they would be ready for planting.
I think both method works as effective as the other, all cuttings showed roots in 2 weeks. I might try moss next but I am happy with the methods I've done so far.
Just like all my tropical plants, the common problems I have with fittonias are fungus gnats and like I have mentioned earlier, they tend to 'droop' or 'faint' when under watered but I haven't personally experienced it.
These 'fruit fly-like' insects are not really harmful to healthy plants but are a nuisance because they can multiply quickly. They are attracted to frequently watered plants (e.g. rainforest plants and vegetables). They were never in succulents because the soil is usually dry. This is the kind of approach I am trying this week, keeping the soil as dry as possibly tolerated by the plants. The big ones that are flying around, I try to kill manually (using my hands) and the larvae and eggs in the soil was treated by cinnamon powder and neem oil. They decreased in numbers but I can't say I have totally killed them all. Anyways, it is going to be a constant struggle and my goal is just to control the population and prevent more destructive pests like spider mites and aphids.
These plants would not be known as drama queens if the fainting spells wasn't discussed in this section. This is easily managed by watering the plant because the culprit is underwatering. I have seen other plant people who had this problems and the plants bounces back to health the day after getting water. Setting a regular watering day would help prevent this problem. Once my fittonia throw fits like this, I would document it here with a picture and time stamp.