Friday, January 20, 2012


Native to the rainforests of South America, mainly Peru, Fittonias belong to the family Acanthaceae (Acanthus), which contains about 250 genera and 2500 species. This family includes familiar indoor favourites such as Aphelandra Squarrosa (Zebra Plant), Crossandra Infundibuliformis (Firecracker Flower), Hypoestes Phyllostachya (Polka Dot Plant) and Strobilanthes Dyerianus (Persian Shield), some of which are not the easiest to grow with their need for high humidity.

Fittonias are highly-prized for their ornamental foliage. The plants are easily recognized by their network of white, pink or red prominently-veined, oval leaves and fuzz-covered stems. Although they are extremely attractive and difficult to resist at the greenhouse, these cool-looking specimens can prove quite challenging if you do not meet their care requirements.

What makes Fittonias a little more difficult than many other popular houseplants is their need for a high level of surrounding humidity and a constant temperature, both of which are often difficult to provide in the average home. But since they are often sold for just a couple of dollars in 4” pots, you may want to give these decorative plants a try.

First and foremost, a high level of humidity is absolutely essential and cannot be compromised. Fittonias cannot tolerate dry air and they will deteriorate quickly if humidity levels plummet. If your home resembles the Sahara Desert, remedy the situation by adding a humidifier nearby, by placing the plants on pebble trays filled with water, by double-potting and filling the spaces between the containers with moist peat, by grouping plants together to form a microclimate with higher humidity or by growing the plants in a room naturally higher in humidity, such as a bathroom. You may also want to consider growing your Fittonias in a terrarium or in a bottle garden.

As much as humanly possible, maintain a constant temperature. Depending on the source, recommendations differ on what the ideal temperature range should be for Fittonias. My suggestion is to grow these plants where levels are between 18°C (64°F) and 23°C (73°F) - not too cold and not too hot. A slightly lower temperature may be tolerated but it should not be allowed to drop below 15°C (59°F). Additionally, because the leaves of Fittonias are quite thin, I’d also recommend avoiding hot, dry locations that can cause rapid transpiration (the evaporation of water from the aerial parts of plants).

Pot up your plants in an airy, fast-draining medium and always keep them evenly moist during the spring and summer seasons. Reduce watering in the winter when growth slows down. Never allow the plants to dry out completely or they will wilt considerably. If this happens, water thoroughly; your plants will bounce back quickly. Always use tepid water.

One feature that makes Fittonias very attractive houseplants is their ability to tolerate low light quite well, and continue to look good. This is quite true, although I wouldn’t place these plants – or any other for that matter - in very dim areas. Place your Fittonias in moderately-lit areas such as up against a north window or in any shady section of your home near decent lighting. Aside from direct sun, every other level of light can be handled.

After a year or two, your plants may begin to look unattractive. No problem. Just take cuttings, which root easily, and start new plants. The growing tips of older specimens should be pinched off regularly to keep the plants shrubby and attractive.

Fittonias In Hydroculture

The union of these plants and the hydroculture growing style is truly a blissful one - after the dramatic conversion. Fittonias literally faint when they are transferred from soil to clay pellets, as you can see from the image below.

If you can handle the emotional transition, which is temporary, the end result will be worth it. Hydroculture will eliminate the water juggling act; no more over or under watering.

To reduce the extensive wilting that these plants can suffer, scrub the roots completely free of soil and place the stems in a glass of water until new roots develop. Once the water roots are formed, transfer to the clay pellets.

Or, pot the plants up immediately in the clay medium, but keep the water level high enough so that the roots are constantly immersed. When the water roots emerge, lower the water level.

No matter which style of conversion you choose, try to provide high levels of humidity during this period to help your plants get through the transition with as little stress as possible. And, if you are immersing the root system directly in water until new roots form, change the water regularly to keep it fresh.

It’s best to try and maintain constant temperatures and high humidity, both of which will keep your plants much happier. Many sources also suggest that the miniature-sized (or dwarf) Fittonias are easier to grow, so you might want to start with one of those. I’ve grown many different kinds – large and small – and honestly don’t see a difference. They all seem to require ample humidity to grow happily.


  1. The benefits of hydroculture aside, I don't know if I could get used to the soil-less look... it would take some getting used to. Probably easier when re-potting I though, I expect.

  2. I felt the same way in the beginning, but since the maintenance of the plants is so minimal now, I love it!