Dwarf Baby Tears Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation

Dwarf baby tears (Hemianthus callitriodes)

Dwarf baby tears (Hemianthus callitriodes) is one of the smallest and most popular plants used for creating lush foregrounds seen in stunning aquascapes. This plant species is also known as “Cuba” or “HC”. Dwarf baby tears is a vibrant green flowering plant with little round leaves and creeping stems that spreads throughout the bottom of the tank. Cuba is often regarded as one of the best carpeting plants in the hobby, although the care difficulty level is medium and it is not best suited for beginners in the hobby.

In this article, we will enlighten you on everything there is to know about Dwarf baby tears, its care & maintenance, and how you can plant it in the tank successfully.

Dwarf Baby Tears – check out the price on Amazon

Quick Notes about Dwarf Baby Tears

Common Name Dwarf baby tears
Other Names Cuba, HC, Pearl Grass
Scientific Name
Hemianthus callitriodes
Difficulty Medium to difficult
Lighting Medium to high
Optimal pH 6.0 – 7.5
Optimal GH 1 – 10
Optimal Temperature 68 – 75° F (20 – 24 °C)
Substrate Needed
Growth Rate Slow
Placement in Tank
Foreground (carpeting)
Height up 3 – 5 cm or 1 – 2 inches
Fertilizers 
Appreciated
CO2 Needed
Propagation Cuttings, Spreads by runners

Origin of Dwarf Baby Tears

Dwarf baby tears was first described and collected by Holger Windelov and Eusebio Delgado Perez in 2003 during an expedition to a small rocky stream in Las Pozas, Cuba, about 90 kilometers east of Havana. This plant species got the name “Cuba” from its place of origin, it is also called “HC” (short form for its scientific name: Hemianthus callitriodes).

In 2008 aquatic factories added Dwarf baby tears to their cultivation and started selling it in the US.

This plant adds a lush green carpet to any kind of set-up. Dwarf baby tears continues to grow in popularity because of its perfect carpeting ability and it is widely available for purchase.

Dwarf baby tears (Hemianthus callitriodes)Dwarf baby tears belongs to the family ‘Scrophulariaceae’ which was later changed to ‘Linderniaceae’. Its scientific classification is as follows:

Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Order: Lamiales
Family: Scrophulariaceae (Linderniaceae)
Genus: Hemianthus
Species: Hemianthus callitriodes

Habitat & Ecology of Dwarf Baby Tears

Dwarf baby tears or HC can be found dwelling in rivers and rocky streams in Cuba, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico. It is also adapted for life in nano and medium tanks.

Description of Dwarf Baby Tears

Dwarf baby tears is a popular and versatile foreground (midground) plant. It is one of the smallest aquarium plants in the world. Dwarf baby tears has a vibrant / bright green overall colouration except the roots which are white / cream in colour. It is small in size, grows up to 3 cm (1.2 inches) vertically and spreads up to 10 cm (4 inches) horizontally.  It is one of the smallest aquarium plants.

The leaves are small: about a millimetre, they are roundish-ovoid and fine textured. It possesses long filiform creeping stems / runners that forms dense mats or carpets, tiny roots which stays rooted in the substrate, and serves as anchorage and absorber of nutrients.

Dwarf baby tears has a distinct feature which is the production of small pearls or bubbles of oxygen which stays on top of the plant, this adds a very lively aspect to the carpet. The plant produces flowers with tiny white blooms if grown emersed, they are extremely small and easy to overlook.

Tank Requirements and Water Parameters

Tank size:

This plant will thrive best if appropriate water conditions are maintained in the tank. A minimum tank size of 10 gallons is recommended for this plant species. It can also do well in nano tanks of 5 gallons or medium-sized tanks as well. It all depends on your choice and purpose.

Water type, Temperature, Hardness, and pH:

Dwarf baby tears (Hemianthus callitriodes)Temperature: Ensure that a temperature range of 68 – 75° F (20 – 24 °C) is maintained in the tank. Dwarf Baby tears is very sensitive to temperature growth. There are many recorded cases whereby the Dwarf baby tears died off in higher temperature above 25 C (77 F). Always check the water temperature at intervals using a good digital thermometer.

pH: The optimal pH level for the Dwarf baby tears is between 6.0 – 7.5.
Hardness: The plant will appreciate the water hardness level between 1 – 10 dGH. It does not like too hard water.

Lighting:

Hemianthus callitrichoides species is photophilic and cannot grow in dark conditions. Therefore, Dwarf baby tears requires medium – high lighting for survival and healthy growth. It should be noted that the plant will grow more compact in high light intensity. Lighting duration should be about 10-14 hours daily.

Two watts or three per gallon of compact fluorescent lighting on an equivalent light source (T5 or T8 bulbs) will keep it growing healthily. However, it is very important to understand that it is the depth of water (or height of tank) that is the real measurement that needs to be taken into consideration! Therefore, small and low in height tanks may not require powerful lights.

You can also utilize LED lighting like Finnex Ray models (link to check the price on Amazon) for this sole purpose.

Substrate:

Cuba grows best in fine-grained substrates. Nutrient-rich soil substrates like ADA Amazonia aqua soil or Aqua Soil Powder (links to check the price on Amazon) are ideal for growing Dwarf baby tears because its smaller grain size enables the plant’s roots to grow faster and easily within the substrate.

Aqua Soil also helps to create a more aesthetically pleasing look in the foreground because of its fine textured granules and it complements the effect of Cuba in creating a carpet that will contrast against the size of your plants or other larger elements within the aquarium.

Read more about it in my article “Top 5 Substrates For Planted Aquariums”.

Important: The plant has a weak root system, and rather poorly rooted. Therefore, when choosing the substrate, you should pay attention to the light porous substrates in which the plant is well-rooted.

Supplements:

Dwarf baby tears need steady CO2 injection (10 – 30 mg/l) to thrive successfully. It can be quite difficult (frankly saying, close to impossible) to grow lush, dense carpets for long periods without CO2 and fertilizer supplementation.

If you see that the stems of Dwarf Baby tears does not creep but start to point upwards or that the leaves become incrementally smaller – it can be a CO2 deficiency.

Fertilizers like Flourish Excel is well accepted by Cuba and it will result in noticeable growth improvements after a while. Iron supplement is also essential as the plant is known to be susceptible to iron deficiencies which often leads to the presence of yellow shoots.

Important: If you keep shrimp in the tank, I would highly recommend reading my articles:
CO2 in a Shrimp Tank
How Copper Affects Dwarf Shrimp
Shrimp Safe Plant Fertilizers
The point is that a high level of CO2 and Copper (most fertilizers contain copper) is extremely dangerous to the shrimp. 

Planting & Propagation of Dwarf Baby Tears

Dwarf baby tears (Hemianthus callitriodes) growth
Dwarf baby tears (Hemianthus callitriodes) growth

Once you must have obtained some potted Dwarf baby tears from an aquarium store, all you have to do is to split the bunch into several sizeable portions for planting.

Make sure to detach the plant from the rockwool. Separate the wool from the roots. Pool apart the piece of wood from the bottom, leaving only the top portion still attached to the plant. Do it slowly to prevent tearing the roots.

Divide the plant into several small plugs/sections.

Important: Each section of the plant should have white roots attached to it. Otherwise, the plant will just melt away. Rinse thoroughly before planting it in the substrate using a good pair of tweezers.

Tip: Dwarf baby tears has very small/shallow roots, so it can be hard to anchor it down.

The plants need to be inserted deep enough into the substrate to prevent it from coming out from it at intervals. While doing this, ensure that the top part of the plant stays well above the soil.

If planted in small clumps and spaced a few centimetres apart, Dwarf baby tears will spread and cover the substrate with individual stems that will form bright dense mats / carpets. This is a relatively slow-growing plant. It can take several weeks before it covers all the areas.

Once planted, each portion will produce runners which basically are individual stems that branch off and grow along the substrate.

This plant is not only suitable for carpet-like structures in the foreground, but it can also be attached to driftwood where it forms large vibrant green cushions with overhanging shoots.

Its propagation means is by stem cuttings. To propagate this species, get some mature Cuba from the tank, split them into many pieces and replant it in the tank.

Dwarf Baby Tears and Dry Start Method

Planting Dwarf baby tears (Hemianthus callitriodes)
Planting Dwarf baby tears (Hemianthus callitriodes)

On the popular methods of growing Dwarf Baby tears is a Dry Start Method. Basically, it allows growing the plant even before cycling the tank.
Note: By the way, this method also shows that this plant a great choice for paludarium setups.

Instead of immediately filling the tank with water after planting, we only need to add enough water to reach the surface of the lowest part of our substrate.
Tip: Do not pour water in directly, it can damage the composition. Use something to spread the flow, for example, a garden mister.

Next, use tweezers to plant it and sprinkle them on top of a substrate.

Cover the top of the tank with cling wrap to increase the humidity. It will successfully promote growth during a dry-start method. However, do not cover it completely. Plants need CO2 to grow. Leave some slit so that there is enough of a CO2 exchange with the ambient air.

Done. In about 5 or 8 weeks you can flood the tank.

Personally, I do not use this method because there are way too big cons for me.

Dwarf Baby tears and Dry Start Method
Pros Cons
Easy planting (in water Dwarf Baby tear tend to float up) Time (It takes a lot of time before flooding the tank)
Light (without water even low light can be good enough for the plant) Have to mist at least once a day
Natural CO2 Die-offs after adding the water. The leaves will not be ready for the submerged conditions and a lot of them will melt away.

Maintenance and Care of Dwarf Baby Tears

Dwarf baby tears and Monte Carlo camparison
Dwarf baby tears and Monte Carlo camparison

Dwarf baby tears is not really an easy plant to maintain, you have to carry out adequate maintenance activities to ensure its survival. Extra care and attention should be given to this plant if you are keen on it not dying off as it is often problematic.

There is a popular joke that Dwarf baby tears got there name from all the people who tried to grow this plant then get pissed and cry baby tears for wasting lots of money on it.

Tip: Monte Carlo plant (check out my guide) can be a good alternative to the Dwarf baby tears. It is small, beautiful and easy to care for even for beginners. Another alternative can be: Flame moss, Cryptocoryne parva.

First, brush up or stir the dense carpets with pincettes in order to prevent it from twisting together. This also helps to bring up food particles, decayed organic matter, and debris to the surface. Do this gently!

Secondly, you are required to dose the plants with iron supplements to prevent them from getting a yellow tint in their shoots. Pressurized CO2 injection and fertilizer application is required as well for proper growth and development. This plant is not a rapid grower, therefore it needs all the help it can get.

Thirdly, in nature, Dwarf baby tears dwell in rivers and rocky streams with clean water. Pay particular attention to the quality of the water in your tank. This plant does not like foul water.

Finally, be on the lookout for unhealthy plants in the tank and remove them gently. Also, introduce algae-eating species to eliminate algae that may be found growing on the plants.

You can read more about it in my article “Types of Algae. Best Algae Eating Team”.

Trimming Dwarf Baby Tears

You need to trim the plant as at when due. Cuba takes about 4 weeks to form compact dense carpets on the floor of an aquarium. Trimming helps the plant attain a healthier and denser look, you should trim this plant frequently to prevent them from getting too long.

When Cuba is allowed to grow freely without adequate trimmings, the base of the carpet discolorates because light doesn’t reach it as it should. That is why trimming is necessary so that the bottom does not die. If the bottom dies this plant will die. This is one of the reasons why proper maintenance culture should be upheld by hobbyists.

Another reason is that when the thickness of the carpet is more than 4 – 5 cm (~2 inches), the lower parts of the plant will rot and the entire cap will float to the surface!

Therefore, you should trim the Dwarf baby tears with pruning scissors frequently. Trim the top parts of the plant down to a few centimeters above the ground, this is crucial to prevent it from dying off.

Note: If you start seeing white roots with every cut, it means that you have gone too far. Be careful, go slow and just snip a small layer off the top.

After the trimming exercise, collect the detached parts that will rise to the surface of the tank water and sieve them out for disposal.

Tip: Turn off an outflow pipe, any powerheads, etc. inside your tank. It will make easier to catch floating pieces of the plant. You will definitely need a fine net for this.

Tank Equipment for Aquascapes and Plants (Amazon build list, links)

LightFinnex Planted+
Canister FilterFluval External Filter
Air PumpTetra Whisper
HeaterEheim Jager Aquarium Thermostat
SubstrateADA Aqua soil
Lily PipesJARDLI Glass Lily Pipe Outflow
CO2 RegulatorCO2 Regulator with Solenoid 110V-Mini Dual Gauge Display Bubble Counter
Trimming toolsStainless Steel Aquatic Plants Aquascaping Tools Set
Test KitAPI Freshwater Master Test

Problems associated with Dwarf Baby Tears

Melting: There is a high tendency of the leaves of the Dwarf baby tears melting (turning brown), the major cause of this is the transfer from emersed form to submersed form. Upon the introduction of the plant into the tank, its leaves start to die off until it has fully adapted to the submersed life form. Regrowth of the leaves occurs and life continues. This takes time.

Yellow or white coloration: If you notice the yellow coloration of the shoots or base of the stems, then it is likely to be a symptom of iron deficiency in the plants (like iron and potassium) or light not reaching the base. At this point, to rescue the plant you have to dose it with iron supplements in adequate quantities.

Attachment: The tiny roots of Cuba often find it hard staying firm in the substrate, that is the reason why it is recommended that you utilize Aqua Soil as a buffer to your main substrate as it helps to improve anchorage. Anyway, you have to wedge the roots back into the substrate when it pops out of the soil.

Algae: It can overrun and kill the plant. Keep in mind that Dwarf Baby tears is a slow grower that requires a lot of light. Higher light, CO2 and fertilizers make algae harder to manage.

Benefits of the Dwarf Baby Tears

  • Dwarf baby tears (Hemianthus callitriodes) in aquascapes
    Dwarf baby tears (Hemianthus callitriodes) in aquascapes

    Oxygenation: Through its life activities, Dwarf baby tears helps in oxygenating the tank water. There is also the production of oxygen bubbles which is is a unique feature of the plant, it is called pearling. It adds oxygen to the tank water as a result of this process.

  • Aesthetics: Dwarf baby tears adds a lush green carpet effect to aquariums. Its vibrant green and small, fine textured foliage has a very aesthetically pleasing look when used in the foreground of the tank.
  • Forage ground: The dense carpets of the dwarf baby tears serves as a forage ground for shrimp which will tend to pick up tiny bits of food particles and organic matter for their consumption. This is a good way to improve your shrimplets survival rate.
  • Hiding place: The carpets also serves as a hiding place for fry and small fish species.
  • Breeding: It serves as a place where fish can carry out mating activities and spawn their eggs.
  • Filtration: Helps in chemical and biological filtration. They help to keep water conditions in the tank stable by absorbing nitrates which are toxic to fish and shrimp when available in macro quantities.

Dwarf Baby Tears and Tankmates

Be careful with floating plants that can overshadow Dwarf Baby tears (for example, Hornwort, Java fern, Water Wisteria, Duckweed, Dwarf Water Lettuce, Frogbit, etc. ).

Read more about it in my article “Top 7 Floating Plants for Beginners”.

Dwarf baby tears (Hemianthus callitriodes) tankmates shrimpDwarf baby tears is a friendly carpeting species, you can house it in tanks with:

The aforementioned aquatic species are fond of picking up tiny bits of food and algae from the dense carpet of Dwarf baby tears.

  • For compatible fish, you can plant Cuba in a tank housing Neon tetras, Bettas, Swordtails. Corydoras, Guppies, and Platies. They are all non-aggressive towards this plant species, you will often spot them hovering around the carpets and using it for their activities.

Hostile species like Dwarf Guoramis, Angelfish, Rainbow fish, Oscars and Herbivorous Cichlids should be avoided at all costs because they will tear up the carpets. 

Buying Dwarf Baby Tears

Due to the wide availability of Dwarf baby tears, you can easily obtain this species in most aquarium stores. If you prefer online shopping, sourcing for Cuba from Amazon or eBay is your best bet to ensure that you get it from a reputable vendor. The potted form of this plant goes for $10 or less depending on the seller’s conditions and growth factors.

To make sure you are getting healthy ones for planting in your tank, look out for plants with bright green shoots, absence of rips & tears on leaves, and presence of abundant roots.

The plant usually comes in pots. However, sometimes it can be available growing on wood or mesh.

Quarantine Dwarf Baby Tears

Do not forget to quarantine Dwarf Baby Tears before putting it into your aquarium!

  • The plant can have parasites, pests like 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

Dwarf baby tears is a versatile but very capricious species. That is why it is not among the best freshwater plants for beginners. Even more, it can be hard even for experienced planted tank enthusiasts to care for.

Dwarf baby tears needs a lot of light, huge quantity of CO2 injection, a fine-grained substrate, and fertilizer application to establish dense bright green carpets in the foreground of the tank.

Dwarf Baby Tears – check out the price on Amazon

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