Fittonia verschaffeltii: Mosaic Plant

Sometimes botanists are hard put to decide — particularly in the case of plants raised by nurserymen — whether two plants are extreme forms of a single species (which may exhibit marked diversity) or two closely related but separate species, or even hybrids that have occurred spontaneously in cultivation without any intervention on the part of the grower. Well-known, for example, is the controversy on Eranthis hyemalis and E. cilicica, two very different forms at first glance, which thorough investigation of their habitats proved to be extreme forms of one and the same species.

In the case of the Peruvian genus Fittonia there is similar confusion. Various authorities cite varying numbers of species (1 to 3) for many consider aberrations to be either varieties or even mere cultivars arising in cultivation. However, let us not concern ourselves with these matters. For us it is enough that these foliage plants can be used for room decoration. They are upright or prostrate herbaceous plants growing to a maximum height of 60 cm (2 ft) (Fittonia gigantea); most, however, are barely half that size. The leaves are broadly oval to ovate with variously coloured veins. Fittonia gigantea has glossy green leaves with crimson veins; F. verschaffeltii dark green leaves tinged crimson and with crimson veins; F. verschaffeltii argyroneura bright green leaves with white veins; and ‘Pearcei’, similar to the species, differs only by having the leaves a paler, more vivid green with veins a deeper crimson.

Since they are plants of tropical forests (chiefly in Peru but also in Brazil, Ecuador and Colombia), fittonias tolerate deep shade but require high atmospheric moisture. The compost should be light, porous and acid, composed, for example, of peat and sand with an addition of loam and leaf mould. These plants are particularly suitable for glass plant-cases, where they fill the poorly lit bottom, and for demijohns and fishbowls.

15. November 2011 by Dave Pinkney
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