Ideal Light Conditions for Nerve Plants to Thrive Indoors

Nerve plants (Fittonia) are wonderfully compact houseplants that can bring striking color and a host of benefits to your home. Like any indoor plant, it’s essential to provide nerve plants with the right amount of light to keep them healthy throughout the year. In this article, we’ll run through everything you need to know about nerve plant light requirements for optimal growth and plant care. 

Nerve Plant (Fittonia) Light Requirements – The Essentials

Nerve plants require bright, indirect sunlight, filtered light, or partial shade to thrive indoors. Ideal placements in the home include east or north-facing rooms. Nerve plants are sensitive to bright, direct sunlight, which can burn their leaves. However, low-light conditions can cause weak or stunted growth, so finding an appropriate balance is key for optimal care. 


The Role of Light in Plant Health and Growth

The Role of Light in Plant Health and Growth

Sunlight is critical for the health and development of all plants. Using sunlight, plants can manufacture food within their bodies through photosynthesis.

Thanks to chlorophyll – the green pigment in their leaves – plants can absorb energy from sunlight. This energy allows plants to mix carbon dioxide and water to produce fuel in the form of glucose. This fuel is used to manufacture cellulose, which plants use to build new tissues.

If a plant doesn’t get enough sunlight, it may struggle to produce enough cellulose to create new solid growth. Instead, the plant will only be able to produce weak, stunted leaves or stems. These more vulnerable plants may have a limp or sickly appearance.

However, getting too much sunlight can be equally harmful to a plant. Intense direct sunlight can burn the leaves of plants that usually prefer shadier conditions. This causes severe damage to the plant and can lead to death.

All plants prefer varying amounts of sunlight, usually depending on the light conditions of their native habitat.


Common Light Terminology for Indoor Plants

Finding the right light level for each plant can get confusing. Thankfully, there are some universally recognized categories of light to make this reasonably easy. The four main types of light for indoor plants are:

  • Bright, direct light – This type of light means that sunlight falls directly onto a plant’s leaves for most of the day. Areas of bright, natural light usually include south or southwest-facing windows with no filter. Bright, direct sunlight is too much for most houseplants except for cacti or succulents.
  • Bright, indirect light – This type of light is suitable for the highest range of houseplants. Bright, indirect light occurs in areas where a plant is close to a window, but the sunlight doesn’t fall directly onto the leaves. Plants get bright, indirect light when placed up to 3 feet away from an east or south-facing window.
  • Filtered light – Filtered light is essentially bright, indirect light that passes through a filter like a blind or net curtain. Filtered light is ideal for plants that can be sensitive to bright light. East-facing windows are perfect for providing filtered light.
  • Low light – Also known as partial shade, low-light conditions are best for plants that are extremely sensitive to bright light. Low-light conditions usually occur in rooms with north-facing windows.

Typical Light Conditions That Nerve Plants Receive in Their Native Habitat

Typical Light Conditions That Nerve Plants Receive in Their Native Habitat

Nerve plants are indigenous to the tropical rainforests of Peru and other countries in South America. These perennial evergreens are compact and have a spreading habit. Nerve plants grow on the forest floor, receiving dappled sunlight through the canopy.

These light conditions are best replicated with either filtered sunlight or partial shade. Nerve plants can tolerate low-light conditions for a short period but must still receive some light.


Signs That Your Nerve Plant is Receiving Too Much Light

Signs That Your Nerve Plant is Receiving Too Much Light

As plants that prefer filtered light or partial shade, nerve plants are vulnerable to receiving too much light. Some common signs that your nerve plant is receiving too much light include:

Brown or Scorched Leaves

This is the most obvious sign that your nerve plant is receiving too much light. When left in direct sunlight, the edges of a nerve plant’s leaves can become scorched. They may also start to turn brown.

Dry or Shriveled Leaves

Nerve plants are sensitive to bright, direct light. Their delicate leaves can start to shrivel up if they get too much direct sunlight. These leaves will feel dry and crispy and may break off when examined. Nerve plants can also be somewhat particular about the ambient temperature and humidity, so ensure you’re locating these plants in a suitable environment as well.

Having to Water Frequently

Nerve plants need consistently moist soil and should be watered every 3 or 4 days. But if your nerve plant dries out every couple of days, the plant might be getting too much direct light. Harsh, direct sunlight can cause nerve plants to use up their available water more quickly.

If you notice your nerve plant suffering from any of these symptoms, move it away from the source of direct light. Try and place the nerve plant somewhere that gets bright, indirect light. Alternatively, use a location that gets filtered sunlight due to blinds or net curtains.


Signs That Your Nerve Plant isn’t Receiving Enough Light

Signs That Your Nerve Plant isn't Receiving Enough Light

While nerve plants don’t like bright, direct light, they can also suffer if they don’t get enough sunlight. Common indicators that your nerve plant isn’t receiving enough light include:

Loss of Color

If a nerve plant doesn’t get enough sunlight, the veins on the leaves may start losing their color. Leaving a nerve plant in a low-light area causes the colors to fade. This is because the plant needs to produce more chlorophyll to absorb the available light, turning the leaves dark green.

Leggy Growth

New nerve plant growth may become leggy if a nerve plant isn’t receiving enough light. This means there will be more significant gaps between emerging leaves, making the stems appear stretched out.

Weak or Stunted Growth

In extreme cases where a nerve plant isn’t getting enough light, new growth may be weak or stunted. Any fresh leaves that the plant produces will be smaller, while the stems may become more vulnerable. This can give the nerve plant a sickly, drooping appearance.


The Best Light Exposure for Nerve Plants Indoors

The Best Light Exposure for Nerve Plants Indoors

Nerve plants thrive in bright, direct sunlight, filtered light, or partial shade. Filtered light provides the best balance between light exposure and protection from too much light. Nerve plants cannot withstand bright, direct sunlight and suffer in low-light conditions.

East-facing rooms are ideal for nerve plants, especially if the sunlight is diffused using blinds or net curtains. Keep the nerve plant at least 3 feet away from the window to achieve bright, indirect light. Ensure any light that comes in doesn’t directly touch the nerve plant’s leaves.

North-facing rooms can also work, provided that they are reasonably bright. Alternatively, you could supplement nerve plants growing in north-facing rooms by using artificial grow lights.

Wherever you place a nerve plant, rotate it fairly regularly to help it grow evenly. Plants will naturally grow in the direction of light, resulting in a crooked plant if you don’t rotate it. Whilst nerve plants aren’t considered toxic or poisonous to pets and humans, it’s prudent to wear a pair of protective gloves during any form of plant care as they do have tiny hairs on their stems that may cause mild irritation.

For more, see our in-depth guide on where to position nerve plants in the home.


Nerve Plant Light Requirements FAQs:

Can Nerve Plants Live in Low-Light?

Nerve plants can live in low-light conditions for short periods, but ideally, they need bright, indirect light. Leaving nerve plants in low-light areas for too long causes problems such as stunted growth.

Nerve plants need bright, indirect light, filtered light, or partial shade. Filtered light is ideal as it provides enough light and protects the plant from direct sunlight.

Nerve plants will not do well in areas with high light levels. Nerve plants are susceptible to high or direct light and can suffer from scorched or shriveled leaves.

If your nerve plant thrives and has good color, it’s getting enough light. Healthy nerve plants should also be free of any symptoms of either too much light or not enough light.


Nerve Plant Light Requirements – Wrapping Up

Nerve plants are attractive and colorful plants to grow in your home as long as you can provide the appropriate light levels. For optimal care, ensure you are providing bright, indirect light, filtered light, or partial shade. Filtered light from an east-facing window strikes the best balance between light exposure and protection from bright, direct sunlight. Nerve plants are susceptible to direct sunlight, so avoid these areas.


Edward Hodsdon
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Edd is a budding content writer and gardener living in the United Kingdom. He has a bachelor's degree in Creative and Professional Writing and has written for several gardening publications online. He is passionate about nature and sustainability with a focus on gardening and wildlife.

Author

Edd is a budding content writer and gardener living in the United Kingdom. He has a bachelor's degree in Creative and Professional Writing and has written for several gardening publications online. He is passionate about nature and sustainability with a focus on gardening and wildlife.

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