Marsilea Hirsuta Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation

Marsilea Hirsuta Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation logo

Today I will be talking about a popular aquarium carpet plant known as Marsilea hirsuta. This is an undemanding carpet-plant species from Australia; Marsilea hirsuta is ideal for creating lush, dense, green carpets in the foreground of planted tanks.

Marsilea hirsuta is a fascinating ground-cover plant thanks to its strong carpeting ability— it is a slow-grower, keeps a compact size of only a few centimeters/inches tall, and forms thick beautiful carpets by spreading its prolific runners all over the place.

In my opinion, Marsilea hirsuta is perfect for beginners in the hobby because of its low maintenance, also, it is a great alternative to Glosso, Monte Carlo, Dwarf Baby tears, and other popular carpeting plants, as it can thrive in low lighting and without CO2 injection.

Keep reading for more information on this amazing carpet-plant species, and how you can cultivate and care for them in a home aquarium.

Quick Notes about Marsilea Hirsuta

Common Name Marsilea Hirsuta
Other Names Pepperwort, Bristly water-clover, Rough water-clover
Scientific Name
Marsilea Hirsuta
Tank Size (optimal)
10 gallons (40 liters)
Difficulty Easy to medium
Lighting Medium to high
Optimal pH 6.0 – 7.5
Optimal GH 2 – 12
Optimal Temperature 20 – 25 C (68 – 77F)
Substrate Needed (nutrient-rich)
Growth Rate Slow to Moderate
Placement in Tank
Mostly foreground / midground
Height up to 10 cm (4 inches)
CO2 Not needed – Low
Not needed – Low
Propagation Splitting

Origin and Taxonomy of Marsilea Hirsuta

This species belongs to the family of heterosporous aquatic and semi-aquatic ferns (Marsileaceae).

The genus Marsilea comprises about 65 species of aquatic ferns, and plants of this genus are also known as pepperwort or water clover because of the prominent long-stalked leaves that look like a flowering plant called four-leaf clover.

The name Marsilea was named after Count Luigi Ferdinando Marsilea who was an Italian natural scientist.

Common names: Bristly water-clover, Rough water-clover

Habitat of Marsilea Hirsuta

Marsilea hirsuta is native to Australia where it grows dominantly in marshes, ponds, and floodplains.

As an amphibious plant, it can either grow partially submerged or fully submerged in shallow, standing waters in sandy or clayey substrates.

The plant has also been introduced to parts of Europe and North America in recent times.

Description of Marsilea Hirsuta

Marsilea Hirsuta Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and PropagationMarsilea hirsuta is a small, perennial, creeping plant with thin stems, each of which bears a two-part, three-part or four-part frond in a low form when it fully settles.

It possesses dark or lime green blades up to 1 cm (0.4 inches) and 5 mm (0.2 inches) wide, leaves are circinate.

The plant is quite compact, and can attain heights of up to 10 cm (4 inches), in low light Marsilea hirsuta will grow higher but it tends to stay smaller under high light.

Marsilea hirsuta forms a long, slender, creeping rhizome often bearing small pale brown hairs, depending on light and nutrient availability; the plant will form numerous runners and spread rapidly across the base of the tank.

Unlike Marsilea quadrifolia which produces floating leaves that grow up to the surface of the water, Marsilea hirsuta stays permanently submerged in the water and produces no floating leaves.

Marsilea hirsuta also reproduces through spore production by this is more common in its emergent form. Being heterosporous, they are able to produce two kinds of spores that can remain dormant for long periods to survive unfavorable conditions.

Tank Requirements and Water Parameters

Tank size:

This is a good choice for Nano tanks. I would say that the minimum tank size to house this species is 5 gallons (20 L).

However, personally, I would recommend the optimal tank size for growing Marsilea hirsuta is 10 gallons (~40 liters).

Water type, Temperature, Hardness, and pH:

Temperature: The plant thrives in an environment with a temperature range of 18-25 °C (64-77 °F). Ensure that the water temperature never rises to 26 °C as it can cause the plant to wither.

pH: Marsilea hirsuta prefers tank water with pH values of 6.0 – 7.0.

Hardness: The plant can tolerate soft – hard water. Anything within the values 4-18 dGH will do just fine for this hardy plant.


Moderate lighting is ideal for promoting the health and carpeting ability of Marsilea hirsuta. It will do best in the range of 30 – 60 PAR.

As I have already mentioned, this plant tends to stay smaller under high light. This species can survive under low lighting but it will cause the plant to grow slower and a little bit taller as if it is trying to reach for more light.

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


Marsilea Hirsuta Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and PropagationMarsilea hirsuta requires a nutrient-rich substrate to grow optimally.

Having a good nutrient-rich substrate helps a lot in ensuring that the plant forms a good carpet structure. Some recommended soil substrates for the Marsilea hirsuta species are ADA Amazonia aqua soilCarib Sea Eco-Complete,  Seachem Fluorite (links to check the price on Amazon).

If you are planning to keep it in a fine-grained substrate (sand-type substrate) or aquarium gravel, you will have to dose it with adequate amounts of high-quality fertilizers to supply the much needed nutrients.

Tip: Root tabs will help if you have heavy root feeders no matter what substrate you are using. 

The substrate should have a minimum depth of about 1-2 inches (2.5-5cm) for better anchorage.

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

CO2 and Fertilizers:

The plant boosts of a low CO2 demand, so CO2 injection is not mandatory, however beneficial. Therefore, if you desire a significant improvement in its growth rate, then CO2 injection should be factored in.

The plant will gain from the regular application of liquid fertilizers as they promote more compact and robust growth.

Important: If you keep shrimp in the tank with the Marsilea hirsuta, I would highly recommend reading my articles:
CO2 in a Planted Tank Guide
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.

Care and Maintenance of Marsilea Hirsuta

Marsilea Hirsuta Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and PropagationMarsilea hirsuta is one of the easiest plants to care for and maintain. There is no need for constant pruning since it is a slow-growing carpet-plant species that is relatively easy to keep compared to other notable foreground plants like Glosso and Cuba.

This undemanding plant requires moderate-high lighting to maintain a low growth habit and spread horizontally across the substrate. One should avoid growing the plant under low light as it will prompt a vertical growth, thus making it to lose the desired carpeting ability as it tends to grow higher to the surface.

The new or young leaves may bear a yellowish coloration. Don’t panic! After a while, the plants will undergo a transition to their usual green color and continue growing.

Trimming: Trimming is essential in maintaining carpeting plants. 

Furthermore, you should only prune the plants when the mats are getting too dense. Simply trim the overgrown carpet with a pair of trimming scissors to keep it in good shape, then collect the clipped shoots with fishnet for disposal.

Since Marsilea hirsuta does not grow fast, your first trim might be after two months of planting. The plant will remain healthy and vibrant under ample light and nutrient abundance.

In addition, you should consider dosing the tank water regularly with a good plant fertilizer e.g. Seachem Flourish Excel, and remember to perform partial water changes weekly to encourage good water quality.

Planting and Propagation of Marsilea Hirsuta

Marsilea Hirsuta is fairly easy to grow in an aquarium setting.

First of all, you must establish a thick layer of the substrate (1-2 inches or 2.5 – 5 cm) deep on the bottom since these are capable of holding the thin roots in place.

Next is to prepare the plants for planting.

  • Split the clumps into small portions of individual plantlets, ensuring that they all possess stolons and the roots are intact.
  • Afterward, spread the trimmed plantlets on a tray, mist them with aquarium water or cover them with a damp paper towel to keep them moist, thereby preventing them from drying out.

Now, it’s time for planting.

  • Using a pair of tweezers, pick a plantlet at an angle of 40-60 degrees, place the plantlet into the substrate; making sure that the root is well covered while the shoot is above the substrate. You can use a pair of tweezers (link to check the price on Amazon)to gently place the stems into the substrate to avoid damage.
  • Then, slowly release the tweezers from the plantlet, gently wiggling it in the process so as to help settle the substrate around the plant to guarantee a firm hold.
  • Well, that’s for one plant, so continue placing the remaining plantlets at least ½ – 1 inch apart from one another for a uniform spread and coverage.

The plant can be propagated easily through its runners. These are stolon-like rhizomes that lie horizontally on the aquarium substrate. They are freely produced by established plants and are capable of spreading rapidly and filling out the empty spaces.

One can simply locate mature rhizomes for splitting and replanting in the tank. This perennial species brings a delicate touch to the foreground of planted tanks.

Alternative Way of Growing Marsilea Hirsuta

Another way to plant and grow Marsilea Hirsuta is to use the Dry Start Method (read more about it). By the way, this method also shows that this plant a great choice for paludarium setups.

The Dry Start Method still significantly boosts the development of the slow-growing plants, cycles the substrate, and removes algae problems!

Problems Associated with Marsilea Hirsuta

Emersed to Submersed: This is a common problem with plants that were not grown underwater in their earliest stages. A transition from an emersed form to a submersed form will prompt a melt and the plant will take some time to bounce back to life by growing new leaves and modifying its structures to adapt to the new environment.

Vertical growth: The cause of upright growth in carpeting plants as opposed to the horizontal growth is the availability of low light.

On the contrary, when bright lighting is provided, the plant will maintain a compact size and continue spreading horizontally on the aquarium floor. In order to maintain a perfect carpet, provide sufficient lighting, and maintain a photoperiod of up to 8 hours daily.

Melting: Apart from the physical transfer situation mentioned earlier, the plant may also melt or stop growing when the temperature exceeds 26 °C (79 °F). Hence, be sure to keep the optimal water temperature between 18-25 °C for the best growth conditions.

Stunted growth: After planting Marsilea Hirsuta may sit there without any obvious changes for weeks! Do not worry, it happens. During this period of time, the plant uses all of its energy to anchor.

Benefits of Marsilea Hirsuta

Aquascape: Marsilea hirsuta is one of the great choices for aquascapes (particularly for Iwagumi aquascapes). It is an excellent ground-cover plant; it is capable of producing dense beautiful carpets in a tank.

Shelter: The lush green carpet provides a great spawning medium for egg scatterers to lay their eggs. Marsilea hirsuta provides shelter for bottom-dwelling fish, fry, and shrimp.

Foraging place: Marsilea serves as a foraging ground for inverts— shrimp and snails. This plant will be an additional place for the growth of biofilm, which is an ideal first food for newly hatched fry and shrimplets.

Oxygenation: The plant helps in oxygenating and filtering the aquarium water by means of photosynthesis.

Marsilea Hirsuta and Tankmates


Marsilea hirsuta is best kept with small, peaceful community fish such as Bleeding heart Tetra, Neon tetras, Mollies, Killifish, Swordtails, White Mountain Minnows, Zebra Danio, Cherry Barb, Sunburst Platy, Endlers, Mollies, Otocinclus CatfishPygmy Cory Catfish,


Inverts are not left out, you should consider species that prefer the same water parameters (mostly pH), for example, Crystal red shrimp, Blue bolt shrimp, Caridina cf. babaulti, etc. 

Freshwater snails:

Once again, ornamental snails should not be kept in a tank with low PH for a long time. It will negatively affect their shell. However, if your pH is close to 7.0, it is possible to keep almost any snail or dwarf shrimp you like. For example, Japanese trapdoor snailsRamshorn snailsNerite snailsMalaysian Trumpet snailsBlack Devil Snails, Asolene spixi, Rabbit Snails, etc.).


However avoid species that may find Marsilea hirsuta palatable, e.g. like Koi fish, Goldfish, Oscars, Rainbow, Jack Dempsey, Clown loaches, African Cichlids. These species can really cause problems in the planted tanks.

Marsilea Hirsuta and most types of crayfish or freshwater crabs are not a good combination as well. These animals will cut, eat, and uproot everything in the tank. So, unless you let it float, it is a no go!

Buying Marsilea Hirsuta

Due to its popularity as a great carpet plant, Marsilea hirsuta is readily available in offline pet stores and online— through reputable vendors.

This plant is very affordable as a pot goes for as low as $5 and that should be enough to cover the foreground of a small tank.

During the buying process, one needs to ensure that the plants are in good condition to be able to live in a different environment. Getting healthy specimens is vital because sick or disease-ridden plants may not be strong enough to survive in a new tank with varying water parameters.

Hence, you should try to obtain only healthy and vibrant specimens with sufficient roots for planting in your aquarium.

Quarantine Marsilea Hirsuta

Do not forget to quarantine any new plants before putting them into your tank!

  • They can have parasites, pests like snails, or even predators (dragonfly, damsefly nymphs, etc.).
  • They can 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

Marsilea Hirsuta is a renowned, easy-to-grow, and affordable plant for beautifying the foreground of aquariums. The plant forms a luxuriant carpet with its dense, lush green foliage which creeps along a porous substrate.

Due to its ease of care, it is highly recommended for beginner aquarists who may want to try out carpeting plants. Interestingly, Marsilea Hirsuta made our list of top 8 carpeting plants for planted tanks [insert hyperlink], so do well to introduce clumps of this awesome plant in your tank.

Related articles:

  1. Top 8 Carpeting Plants for Planted Tanks
  2. Top 7 Floating Plants for Beginners
  3. 10 Tips For Rooted Aquarium Plants

2 thoughts on “Marsilea Hirsuta Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation

  1. Should the rhizome stay above the soil, as with anubias and java fern?

    1. Hi Rebecca,
      It can be really hard to do with such a small plant.
      Generally, I just stick it into the substrate. That is it.
      Best regards,

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