There are many types of live aquatic plants that can be used in a tropical fish tank.
Some species are tall and make excellent background specimens, while others are shorter and can be grown in the foreground.
Marsilea hirsuta is a carpet-forming plant whose leaves resemble those of the terrestrial clover plant. This is not a demanding plant and is perfect for beginners since it grows well in low-light growth conditions and requires little maintenance.
Read this article to learn everything you need to know about caring for and growing Marsilea hirsuta.
Background and Origins
Marsilea hirsuta belongs to the Marsileaceae family of heterosporous aquatic and semi-aquatic ferns. The plant is also commonly referred to as water clover or pepperwort, mainly because the plants resemble a flowering, terrestrial clover plant. There are roughly 65 species of aquatic ferns.
This plant has the common names Rough Water Clover and Bristly Water Clover. This species is one of the hardiest foreground plants in the hobby, which is one of the reasons it’s such a popular choice.
The Marsilea hirsuta plant is native to Australia. It grows fully submerged or partially submerged in shallow ponds, marshes, floodplains, and standing water in the wild environment.
Recently, Marsilea hirsuta has been found growing in parts of North America and Europe.
What Does Marsilea Hirsuta Look Like?
Marsilea hirsuta is a compact, low-growing carpet plant. It has thin stems bearing a two, three, or four-part leaf that resembles a four-leaf clover.
The circular leaves are lime or dark green, measuring up to .4 inches wide. When given high light conditions, the plant reaches only 4 inches in height, although it will grow taller if the lighting in your aquarium is on the low side.
When given optimum growing conditions, including good light and a ready supply of nutrients, Marsilea hirsuta spreads quickly using runners that extend across the aquarium substrate.
The plant also propagates in its emergent form through spore production. Interestingly, those spores can remain dormant until the water conditions are suitable for germination.
Marsilea Hirsuta Care Guide
In this part of our article, we explain how to care for the Marsilea hirsuta plant, including growing and propagating it in your aquarium.
What Tank Size Is Best for Marsilea Hirsuta?
Marsilea hirsuta is an excellent choice of plant for nano tanks. We recommend a minimum tank size of 5 gallons, although the optimal aquarium size for displaying this plant to its very best is 10 gallons or more.
As these plants need a decent amount of light to thrive and grow correctly, a shallow tank is best rather than a very tall one unless you can provide very bright lighting.
Marsilea hirsuta thrives in a tropical environment and needs a water temperature of between 64° and 77°F. You need to ensure that the water temperature never exceeds that upper range as the plant will wither and die if the water is too warm.
The pH range should be between 6.0 and 7.0, with the water hardness in the range of 4 to 18 dGH.
For Marsilea hirsuta to grow and thrive, you need to give it adequate lighting, although it will grow in relatively low light conditions.
The brighter the light in your aquarium, the smaller the plant will stay, but it will spread quite quickly. In lower light conditions, the plant will still grow but not as quickly, and it will become taller as it tries to reach the light.
To learn more about choosing the ideal lighting conditions for your tropical tank, read this article.
A nutrient-rich aquarium substrate is required for Marsilea hirsuta to grow and spread well.
The ideal substrate is a sandy, fine-grained medium that replicates the plant’s natural environment. However, if you don’t use aquarium soil, you will need to use high-quality liquid or root tab plant fertilizer. Root tabs are especially useful if you already grow heavy root feeders in your aquarium. Although CO2 is not strictly necessary to grow this plant, it can help to boost growth rates.
Ideally, you want the substrate to be around 1 to 2 inches deep so that the plants can anchor themselves securely.
Marsilea hirsuta is extremely easy to care for and maintain, making this the ideal carpet plant choice for beginners to the hobby.
As this hardy plant is a slow-growing carpet species, you don’t need to prune it continually. Just keep an eye on it and remove any dead leaves to prevent them from decaying and polluting the water in your tank.
If the mats of plant leaves become too dense, use a pair of trimming scissors to remove excess growth and keep it neat. Usually, the plant will require its first trim around two months after planting.
Any new or young leaves that the plant puts out often appear yellowish. That’s normal, and the leaves will turn green as they mature.
Although plants use nitrates as fertilizer, you still need to carry out your weekly tank maintenance routine, including partial water changes and vacuuming the substrate, using an aquarium vacuum to remove excess organic waste.
Although Marsilea hirsuta is excellent for shrimp, snails, and most small tropical fish species, there are a few fish that you should avoid keeping with these plants.
Species such as koi, goldfish, Jack Dempsey, Clown loaches, cichlids, crayfish, and freshwater crabs will all make a meal of your Marsilea hirsuta plants or at least uproot them.
Also, some bottom-dwelling fish might struggle to do well in a tank with the very dense carpet of the plant.
How To Grow and Propagate Marsilea Hirsuta
The good news for beginners is that Marsilea hirsuta is very easy to grow in an aquarium setting.
Ensure that you have a thick layer of a substrate of at least 1 to 2 inches in depth so that the plant’s roots have a secure anchorage.
To prepare the plants:
- Split the clumps into small bunches of individual plantlets. Ensure that each plantlet has stolons and that the roots are undamaged and intact.
- Spread the plantlets on a tray. Put some aquarium water in a plant mister and spray the plantlets. Cover the tray with damp paper towels to retain moisture so that the plants don’t dry out.
- Take a pair of aquascaping tweezers, and pick up a plantlet. Put the plantlet into the substrate, ensuring that the roots are entirely covered and the shoot is above the substrate.
- Repeat the process, leaving between ½ to 1 inch between the plants to allow them enough space to spread.
Marsilea hirsuta propagates by putting out runners that lie horizontally along the substrate of your tank. These runners quickly put out new growth and gradually spread to fill the whole tank floor.
You can snip off pieces of these runners and replant them elsewhere in the tank if you want to.
An alternative way to grow and plant Marsilea hirsuta is to use what’s commonly referred to as the “dry start method.” Essentially, the dry start method is ideal for starting a paludarium since it still cycles the aquarium substrate, boosts the growth and development of slow-growing plants, and helps control algae growth.
Problems and Troubleshooting
Although Marsilea hirsuta is an easy plant to grow, you might still have a few problems with cultivating it.
Transition to Submersed from Emersed
A common problem with plants that have not been grown underwater is the transition from emersed plants to submerged plants. Often, plants begin to melt and disintegrate when submerged for the first time, and they can take a while to get back to life.
However, they will ultimately put out new leaves and gradually acclimate to their new environment.
When any low-growing carpet plant grows vertically rather than horizontally, the problem is almost always due to a lack of light.
Instead of spreading out to cover the bottom of the tank, the plants shoot upward toward the available light source in search of the nutrition they need to photosynthesize. So, to ensure that your plants grow correctly, you must provide them with enough light for up to eight hours every day.
Sometimes, Marsilea hirsuta will struggle to get enough light if the tank is very tall. So, you might want to consider changing to a shallower tank if that’s suitable for your fish and other livestock.
Plant melt refers to the phenomenon when plants wither and lose their leaves. In the case of Marsilea hirsuta, plant melt usually occurs when the water temperature in the aquarium exceeds 79°F.
So, be sure to check the water temperature in your tank at least weekly by using an aquarium thermometer.
Don’t panic if your Marsilea hirsuta plants don’t grow much during their first couple of months in the tank.
Stunted growth is not uncommon during the initial period when the plant is using all its energy to remain anchored in the substrate.
Once it has successfully become established, it will begin to grow and show signs of beginning to thrive.
What Are the Benefits of Growing Marsilea Hirsuta?
Keeping this beautiful, aquarium carpet plant offers many benefits for the hobbyists, including:
Marsilea hirsuta is an awesome freshwater plant that is a favorite foreground aquarium plant with many aquascaping specialists!
Not only is it exceptionally easy to grow, but it also produces a dense, vibrant green color carpet across the floor of your tank.
Safety and Shelter
This thick carpet provides excellent shelter and safety for any vulnerable fish fry that might otherwise be eaten by adult fish.
Shrimp and shy fish species also love the safe environment that Marsilea hirsuta provides.
A Foraging Ground
Marsilea hirsuta provides an excellent foraging ground for snails and shrimp. The plant’s flat leaves and dense carpeting habit offer the perfect platform for the growth of biofilm, which provides a banquet for newly hatched shrimplets and fish fry.
Improves Water Quality
Like all living aquatic plants, Marsilea hirsuta helps filter harmful nitrates from the water, making the environment cleaner and healthier for your livestock.
The plants also add oxygen to the water and extract CO2 during photosynthesis.
Marsilea hirsuta is generally readily available from good pet and fish stores and online vendors, thanks to its enduring popularity as an excellent ground cover plant.
They are very affordable, too, making this species an excellent aquatic plant choice for those on a budget. A pot of Marsilea hirsuta plantlets generally sells for around $5 and will contain sufficient plants to cover a small aquarium.
How To Choose Marsilea Hirsuta
When shopping for Marsilea hirsuta plants, you need to look for healthy specimens that are in excellent condition. If the plants are sickly and weak, they won’t tolerate the transition to a new environment. So, always pick the most vibrant, healthy plants you can find!
Choose those that have bright green leaves and sufficient roots for planting in your fish tank.
Before introducing any new aquarium plants to your main tank, we recommend that you place them in a quarantine tank for a couple of weeks. Also, it’s a good idea to rinse the plants in a solution of antibacterial medication to kill off any parasites or bacteria that they might be carrying. Check the leaves carefully for signs of snail activity, and remove any unwanted hitchhikers.
Once you’re happy that the plants are healthy and free from parasites, you can add them to your main tank.
If you have a small or large tropical fish tank and you’re looking for an attractive carpet plant that will provide shelter for shrimp and fish fry, as well as look good, Marsilea hirsuta is the ideal aquarium plant for you!
It is straightforward to grow, doesn’t require extremely high lighting, and has a slow growth rate, so maintenance is easy.
Also, these beginner-friendly plants are readily available and cheap to buy, making them the perfect choice for newbies to the hobby.