Brazilian Pennywort Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation

Brazilian Pennywort (Hydrocotyle leucocephala) Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation

Hydrocotyle leucocephala, otherwise known as Brazilian pennywort is a fast-growing stem plant having attractive, half-dollar-sized, bright green leaves and delicate stems that spread out horizontally in the tank.

The species is easy to grow and suitable for all kinds of tanks, and it is easily adaptable to varying tank conditions. Brazilian pennywort is also one of the easier plants to adapt to emersed conditions where it will even flower.

This care guide provides necessary information about the Brazilian pennywort, including how to plant and maintain it in a home aquarium.

Quick Notes about Brazilian Pennywort

Common Name Brazilian pennywort
Other Names Mushroom Pennywort, Moneywort, or Brazilian water-ivy
Scientific Name Hydrocotyle leucocephala
Tank Size (minimum) 10 gallons (~40 liters)
Difficulty Easy 
Lighting Moderate to high 
Optimal pH 6.0 – 8.0
Water hardness Soft to hard water (4 – 18)
Temperature 22 – 28 °C (72 – 82 °F)
Substrate Any 
Can float:
Yes
Can Be Grown Emersed:
Yes
Growth Rate Moderate to fast
Placement in Tank Midground / background
Fertilizer
Recommended
CO2 Not needed but recommended when submersed
Propagation By clipping mature stems or lateral shoots

Origin of Brazilian Pennywort

Hydrocotyle leucocephala is a versatile, freshwater aquarium plant of the genus Hydrocotyle which contains about 100+ species of perennial, aquatic, or semi-aquatic plants.

Hydrocotyle stems from the Greek words “hydro” (water) and “kotyle” (dish/plate) — hinting at the shape of the leaves. Additionally, the species name leucocephala is of Greek origin, leuc meaning “white” and cephal meaning “head”, and this refers to the whitish flowers arranged in heads or clusters.

This stem plant grows in boggy areas in Central and South America, and it features long, bright green foliage that is vine-like.

Habitat of Brazilian Pennywort

This species is native to Central and South America; present in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Venezuela, and Southern Mexico where it grows in wetlands, bogs, marshes, and still or slow-moving rivers.

Description of Brazilian Pennywort

Brazilian Pennywort (Hydrocotyle leucocephala) Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation - flowersBrazilian pennywort is characterized by its relatively small (around 1 – 1.5 inches or 2.5 – 3 cm), round, flat, vibrant green leaves (resembling lily pads) borne on thin green stalks.

The plant also has upright/creeping stems; fine, delicate, and stringy white roots, and small, whitish flowers (as seen in emersed plants).

Brazilian pennywort is a fast-growing aquarium plant. It can grow up to 24 inches (60 cm) in height and about 6 inches (15 cm) in width under optimal conditions.

Due to the attractive, vine or ivy-like appearance of this species, it makes a great fit for paludarium setups. In addition, the plant is quite versatile — it can be grown in any substrate as a mid-ground, background plant, or left floating on the surface of the water.

Note: I have seen people keeping it even as a foreground plant but, in my opinion, it is too time-consuming to keep it along the substrate.

Also, Brazilian pennywort is ideal for removing excess nitrates from the aquarium water, plus its roots (when floated) serves as a haven for fish fry and a good medium for infusoria to grow.

The plant has an overall light green appearance, and its color is more pronounced when grown in well-lit tanks with ample nutrient supply.

Tank Requirements and Water Parameters

Tank size:

The recommended tank size for growing Brazilian pennywort is a minimum of 10 gallons (~40 liters).

It would not be a good idea to keep it smaller tanks unless you are ready to frequently trim the plant since it grows very rapidly. It always grows towards the surface.

Water type, Temperature, Hardness, and pH:

Temperature: The ideal temperature for Hydrocotyle leucocephala is between 72 °F – 82 °F (22 °C – 28 °C). This species requires warmer temperatures for optimal growth.

Lower temperatures will slow down the growth of the plant.

pH: Optimal pH values 6.0 – 8.0 are required to encourage optimal growth and health of this species.

Hardness: The plant is adaptable to a range of water hardness values. However, it grows best in freshwaters with hardness between 4 – 18 GH.

Lighting:

Brazilian pennywort can grow even in dim lighting conditions, however intense lighting is required for it to maintain its typical fast growth habit and robust appearance.

Ensure to provide moderate-high lighting (30-50 PAR) using a high-quality LED light, and maintain a standard photoperiod of at least 8 hours daily.

Read more about it in my article “Advanced Guide to Planted Tank Lighting”.

Substrate:

Brazilian pennywort does not develop an extensive root system and prefers to just float, with its leaves growing emersed.

Therefore, there is no need for a nutrient-rich substrate. It can grow anywhere, including in sand and gravel.  

Water flow:

Keeping Brazilian pennywort as a free-floating plant will require gentle surface agitation on the water surface.

Otherwise, it will turn the plant into a huge ‘balling’ mess.

CO2 and Fertilization:

Though Brazilian pennywort can do without CO2 supplementation, optimal growth is almost certain when the aquarium water is supplemented with pressurized or liquid carbon. This is usually evident in the plant’s growth rate and overall appearance — makes it look lush and healthier.

Note: Obviously, as a floater, the plant will not require additional CO2 dosing as it gets enough from the air.

Brazilian pennywort loves to eat! Additionally, the application of fertilizers will make the plant grow bushy and quicker. Fertilizers provide diverse, essential nutrients that the plant needs to thrive in an aquarium.

Brazilian pennywort is mostly a water column feeder plant. Its root system is pretty weak and the plant absorbs nutrients primarily through its leaves. Therefore, you need to dose liquid fertilizers, not root tabs.

Important: If you keep shrimp in the tank with Brazilian pennywort, I would highly recommend reading my articles:

The point is that a high level of CO2 and Copper (most fertilizers contain copper) is extremely dangerous to the shrimp.

Care and Maintenance of Brazilian Pennywort

Brazilian Pennywort (Hydrocotyle leucocephala) Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation growthHydrocotyle leucocephala is one of the easiest plants to maintain in a freshwater planted tank. Additionally, the plant is relatively easy to grow, hardy, and has minimal demands.

Pruning is a major care activity involved in maintaining Brazilian pennywort because the plant grows quite fast, and as such, regular pruning is needed to keep its growth under control.

Under optimal conditions, Brazilian pennywort will grow rapidly and vigorously, thus capable of overrunning the tank if left untrimmed.

Be sure to prune excess growth and dispose of the shoots properly. Equally nip off browning or pale-looking stems and leaves.

If there are sparse areas in your tank that need to be filled, you may introduce some stems from your cuttings.

Ultimately, the frequency of pruning depends on how fast your plant grows (especially if you are supplementing with fertilizers and CO2). As a result, you may need to cut the plant every week and while at it — be careful not to tug/damage the healthy shoots.

Furthermore, keep in mind that the application of fertilizers, mainly those rich in macronutrients and Iron is essential to prevent deficiencies such as yellowing of the leaves. Therefore, you should add plant fertilizers after every significant, partial water change to provide nutrients that facilitate optimal growth and development.

Partial water changes help to promote excellent water quality.

Through nutrient absorption, Brazilian pennywort will remove a great deal of nitrates from the aquarium water but it may not necessarily drive it down to the ideal levels. Hence, regular water changes are required to help lower it even further.

Planting and Propagation of Brazilian Pennywort

Brazilian Pennywort (Hydrocotyle leucocephala) Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation rootThere are several ways of keeping Brazilian pennywort in an aquarium.

This plant can be employed as a floating plant in the tank. Actually, it does better this way. To do this, simply divide the plant, disinfect the stems thoroughly and spread them on the surface of the water.

Alternatively, Brazilian pennywort can be cultivated in the substrate as a mid-ground or background plant in order to introduce a lot of depth in the aquascape. This is perfect for tanks filled with plants of varying contrasts. You can achieve this by placing the healthy stems directly into the aquarium substrate (about 1 – 1.5 inches or 2.5 – 4 cm deep).

Note: This plant has small roots making it very hard to keep it planted. In addition, placing it too deep will not help as it can start rotting.

Also, the plant can be used to accentuate aquarium décor (driftwood, bogwood, and cavework), all you have to do is weigh it down properly.

On the other hand, propagation of Brazilian pennywort is quite easy, simply take cuttings from healthy (mature) stems or lateral shoots and replant them in the substrate or float on the water surface.

Within a week or two, the stem cuttings will sprout plenty of roots and their growth will explode.

Features:

  • Grows slower when underwater,
  • Requires a lot of light,
  • Absorbs nutrients from the water.

Problems Associated with Brazilian Pennywort

Melting: This incident often occurs in stem plants after physical transfer from an emersed to submersed environment.

During this period, it’s normal for a plant grown in terrestrial conditions to die back and shed some of its leaves. After a while, Brazilian pennywort will adapt to the new conditions/environment and then, grow new leaves.

Melting a few months later: Some aquarists complain that after an amazing growth for 5 -6 months, Brazilian pennywort starts gradually degrade.

Solution: It does not like to be fully submerged all the time. It thrives in paludarium setups.

Sparse Growth: Usually, this problem is caused by low lighting in the aquarium or a lack of essential nutrients necessary for optimal growth.

Solution: Make sure to increase your lighting intensity/photoperiod and also, dose plant fertilizers regularly. In addition, prune your plants from time to time to encourage the horizontal growth of shoots.

Balling’: If you do not trim Brazilian pennywort and let it float, the current will push them into a ball. Eventually, the plant will look like a giant mass over the tank.

Solution: Regular pruning.

Overgrowth: Brazilian pennywort is capable of overrunning the tank due to its fast growth rate. It can create shades and block light from getting to live plants at the lower levels of your tank.

Solution: excess or overgrown foliage should be pruned frequently.

Slow Growth: This is caused by low lighting, very soft water, or insufficient nutrients in the tank to actively support the growth process.

Solution: To this end, ensure that the aquarium water is not too soft. Other necessary measures include increasing the aquarium lighting, dosing plant fertilizers, and supplying enough CO2. Check your nitrates in the water, Brazilian pennywort needs nitrates (>10).

Crooked roots: It is a sign of a phosphorus deficiency. This plant shows it before other plants.

Solution: Add some phosphates.

Yellowing of The Leaves: When certain parts (mainly the edges) of the Brazilian pennywort turn yellow, it is often an indication of iron deficiency.

Solution: Do well to provide chelated iron in the right dosage to prevent/cure the problem.

Related articles:

Benefits of Brazilian Pennywort

Aquascape: The shape and chaotical form of Brazilian pennywort will be an excellent decorative addition for jungle aquascape.

Versatility: Brazilian pennywortis one of a few plants that look good as a background plant, floating plant, or even as emersed/terrestrial form.

Removal of excess nutrients: Brazilian pennywort is highly dependent on nutrient availability in the water column. So, if you have some problems with nitrates, ammonia, and phosphates, this plant will help you in no time. Basically, you can use it as an indicator for nutrient levels – when the leaves start to lighten up – it does not have enough nutrition. 

Firmness: Brazilian pennywort does not “shed” leaves as many other floaters do.

Replacement: Even if it is rooted, the plant can be easily moved or removed. Brazilian pennywort has very thin and delicate roots. You will not pull up a big part of your substrate with it.

Hiding place: Serves as cover and shade for invertebrates and small fish. It serves as a perfect hiding place for shrimp and fish.

Foraging place: Acts as a buffet of biofilm, which is an ideal first food for newly hatched fry and shrimplets.

Oxygenation: Brazilian pennywort oxygenates and aerates the tank water.

Brazilian Pennywort  and Compatible Tankmates

This stem plant is compatible with a wide variety of aquarium pets:

Avoid or Be Careful:

However, avoid keeping species like Goldfish, Silver dollars, Oscars, Jack Dempsey, Koi fish, and Buenos Aires Tetra since they won’t hesitate to devour the plant’s foliage. The same goes for large, aggressive fish like Cichlids that are capable of tearing the plant, damaging the stems, and dislodging its roots.

You can also read my article “Fish Causing Problems in Planted Tanks”.

Unless you keep Brazilian pennywort as a floating plant, do not keep it with most types of crayfish, or freshwater crabs. These animals will cut, eat, and uproot everything in the tank. So, be warned!

Buying Brazilian Pennywort

Hydrocotyle leucocephala is readily available for sale at local fish stores, and it can also be sourced from online stores or any hobbyist living nearby that is willing to spare a few stems.

Usually, a pot or bunch (containing 2 – 4 stems) goes for $5 – $10, so you may need to get more than 2 pots; it all boils down to the size of your aquarium and how you intend to cultivate it.

Always look out for healthy specimens while shopping, these should possess vibrant green stems and leaves — devoid of rips, holes, and discoloration, in addition to abundant white roots. Do not obtain specimens with broken stems, torn/discolored/curled leaves, and dark brown roots.

Quarantine Brazilian Pennywort

Unless you are completely sure that the plant is safe, for example, it was grown in sterile/laboratory conditions (in vitro) and in vitro pot is not damaged or opened, do not forget to quarantine and disinfect Brazilian pennywort to avoid the risk of contamination.

  • The plant can have parasites, and hitchhikers like pest snails, or even predators (dragonfly, damsefly nymphs, etc.).
  • It could also be treated with chemicals (pesticide) to remove parasites, snails, etc. However, these chemicals are extremely poisonous to fish, shrimp, and other invertebrates.

To find out more, read my articles:  

How to Remove Snails from a Shrimp Tank.
How to Quarantine and Disinfect Aquarium Plants.
Pesticides in Shrimp Tanks. Plants Quarantine.

In Conclusion

Brazilian pennywort is perfectly suited for adorning the various sections of an aquarium — be it mid-ground or background.

This plant is loved for its beautiful, bright green foliage, ease of care, and the ability to remove excess nitrates from the tank water. Besides its usage in the aquarium hobby, some people make use of the leaves of Brazilian pennywort to prepare dishes owing to its slight peppery taste.

Planting, propagating, and caring for Brazilian pennywort is quite easy, and thus, this species is recommended for beginners in the hobby.

Get this versatile stem plant for your tank and be rewarded with luxuriant vegetation in no time. It’s definitely one of the best plants for freshwater aquaria.

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