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Nature Weekly
Short Notes on Nature Singapore

2 July 2017 | Asiatic Pennywort | Centella asiatica |

photo photo photo photo Asiatic Pennywort (Centella asiatica) is both a vegetable and a medicinal herb. It goes by several common names such as Indian Pennywort and Gotu Kola. The stimulant of doing this short write up was a recently flowering specimen in a small pot at my balcony area. Several months back, I found a seedling in one of the larger pot and decided to transplant into a separate pot. I brought back a matured plant some time back but it did not survive. Surprisingly, this young plant did very well and started to send out stolon (creeping stem) over the last few weeks. This week, I was quite excited to find a few tiny flowers on its nodes. Flowers of this creepers are not easy to spot as they are small with short stalk and hidden under its broad leaves.

While checking on its flowers in the Internet, I came across several websites that showed pictures of Whorled Pennywort (Hydrocotyle verticillata) but named it as Centella asiatica. The leaf stalk of Hydrocotyle verticillata attached to the centre of the rounded leaf blade and it produces flowers with stalks way above the leaves. As for Centella asiatica, the leaf stalk is attached to the margin of the leaf blade and the flower stalk is much shorter than the leaf stalk.

Since this herb is used for medicinal purpose, misidentification might pose a safety risk to the user. Hydrocotyle verticillata is an aquatic plant often sold in aquarium shops. Its edibility is unknown. In the Internet, there were Centella asiatica products advertised but showing pictures of the aquarium plant. A quick search in the PubMed website, a well-known biomedical publication database, using the botanical name of the 2 plants landed with 626 hits for Centella asiatica but only 4 hits for Hydrocotyle verticillata. Of the 4 hits, none of them focus on the plant itself. It was quite clear that the amount of information available for Hydrocotyle verticillata related to amy medicinal potential was almost non-existence.

Besides Hydrocotyle verticillata, the other 2 similar-looking and relatively common creepers available here are Brazilian Pennywort (Hydrocotyle leucocephala) and Water Pennywort (Hydrocotyle sibthorpioides). I had posted a short note on the distinction between these 2 species in April 2016. The main difference was in the features of their flowers. However, their flowers were very small which might not be very helpful in visual identification.

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