Marsilea is a genus of approximately 65 species of aquatic ferns of the family Marsileaceae. The name honours Italian naturalist Luigi Ferdinando Marsili (1656–1730).[3]

Marsilea villosa
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Class: Polypodiopsida
Order: Salviniales
Family: Marsileaceae
Genus: Marsilea

Lemma Juss. ex Adans.
Spheroidea Dulac
Zaluzianskia Neck.

These small plants are of unusual appearance and do not resemble common ferns. Common names include water clover and four-leaf clover because of the long-stalked leaves have four clover-like lobes and are either present above water or submerged.

The sporocarps of some Australian species are very drought-resistant, surviving up to 100 years in dry conditions. On wetting, the gelatinous interior of the sporocarp swells, splitting it and releasing a worm-like mass that carries sori, eventually leading to germination of spores and fertilization.


As food

Sporocarps of some Australian species such as Marsilea drummondii are edible and have been eaten by Aborigines and early white settlers, who knew it under the name ngardu or nardoo. Parts of Marsilea drummondii contain an enzyme which destroys thiamine (vitamin B1), leading to brain damage in sheep and horses. During floods in the Gwydir River basin 2,200 sheep died after eating nardoo. Three-quarters of the sheep that were affected did however respond to thiamine injections.[5] Thiamine deficiency from incorrectly prepared nardoo likely resulted in the starvation and death of Burke and Wills.[6][7]

The leaves of Marsilea crenata are part of the East Javanese cuisine of Indonesia, especially in the city of Surabaya. It is called Pecel Semanggi and is served with spicy peanut and sweet potato sauce.


A few species in the genus, such as Marsilea crenata, Marsilea exarata, Marsilea hirsuta, and Marsilea quadrifolia, are grown in aquaria.


Formerly placed here


Molecular phylogenetic analysis of the genus Marsilea shows the following tree.[9] This tree indicates that M. crenata is the same species (or a subspecies) of M. minuta, and possibly M. fadeniana also. Additionally, this analysis contradicts reports[10] that M. polycarpa is a synonym for M. minuta

Group II
Macrocarpa subgroup

M. aegyptiatica

M. botryocarpa

M. ephippiocarpa

M. farinosa

M. macrocarpa

M. schelpiana

M. vera

M. villifolia

Nubica subgroup

M. nubica (Botswana)

M. nubica (Nigeria)

Capensis subgroup

M. capensis

M. gibba

M. distorta

Marsilea subgroup

M. angustifolia

M. drummondii

M. minutaM. crenataM. fadeniana complex

M. crenata (Indonesia)

M. crenata (Thailand)

M. minuta (India)

M. minuta (Myanmar)

M. minuta (Africa)

M. fadeniana

M. quadrifolia

Nodorhizae subgroup

M. ancyclopoda

M. macropoda

M. nashii (Grand Turk Island)

M. nashii (West Indies)

M. oligospora

M. vestita

M. villosa

M. mollis

Group I
Clemys subgroup

M. crotophora

M. polycarpa

Mutica subgroup

M. mutica

See also


  1. "Marsilea — The Plant List". The Plant List. 2012. Retrieved 31 August 2017.
  2. "Genus: Marsilea L." Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. 2007-10-05. Retrieved 2010-07-13.
  3. "Marsilea Linnaeus, Sp. Pl. 2: 1099. 1753; Gen. Pl. ed. 5, 485, 1754". Flora of North America. Retrieved 2013-04-14.
  4. Schaefer, Hanno; Mark A Carine; Fred J Rumsey (October–December 2011). "From European priority species to invasive weed: Marsilea azorica is a misidentified alien". Systematic Botany. 36 (4): 845–853. doi:10.1600/036364411X604868.
  5. Watt, Bruce, Managing the land – Toxic Plants, Pro Grazier, Winter, 2009, MLA
  6. Chaffey, Calder (June 2002). "A Fern which Changed Australian History". Australian Plants Online. Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants. Archived from the original on 2014-02-01. Retrieved 2013-04-14.
  7. Phoenix, Dave (2011). "Did Burke and Wills die because they ate nardoo?". State Library of Victoria: The Burke & Wills research gateway.
  8. "GRIN Species of Marsilea". Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 31 August 2017.
  9. Nagalingum, Nathalie S.; Schneider, Harald; Pryer, Kathleen M. (2007). "Molecular Phylogenetic Relationships and Morphological Evolution in the Heterosporous Fern Genus Marsilea". Systematic Botany. 32 (1): 16–25. doi:10.1600/036364407780360256. ISSN 1548-2324.
  10. Missouri Botanical Garden. 25 Sep 2017
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