A few notes on wood in the aquarium...

As you know, at Tannin, we’re big fans of using natural materials in aquariums for aquascaping, habitat enrichment, shelter for fishes, and as spawning substrates. Perhaps the most commonly used natural material in aquariums is wood. Now, you’ve probably seen a bunch of different types of wood during your aquatic career, and maybe you never really gave much thought as to what driftwood is all about. With all of the cool varieties now available to the hobby, we’ve searched and come to our own conclusions about which types are best for aquatic use.

Interesting thing about wood in the aquarium? There's a fair amount of misconceptions and misinformation out there about what can work and what is not safe, etc.

Believe it or not, if properly prepared, almost (I say…ALMOST) any type of dried wood can be utilized in aquariums. The important thing is that the wood must be…well, DRY! It can’t be “live”, or have any greenwood or sap present, as these may have toxic affects on fishes when submerged. Sap can be toxic, even when dry, so if you see a piece of wood- even dry- that’s displaying some sap- it might be a good idea to take a pass. In our experience, it’s a better idea to purchase your wood from sources known to offer “aquarium safe” wood, and not worry about suitability, toxic concerns, etc.

Driftwood is wood that has been dried over time, generally free of bark, (which, other than containing tannins and polyphenols, that are largely non-toxic in reasonable concentrations- is not that problematic, actually) and greenwood as outlined above. In most trees, the real chemically active substances are found in the leaves, live “greenwood”, and the sap. So, a dry, bark-stripped piece of wood, free from sap, dried or otherwise, is generally pretty good to go, and is relatively stable and neutral.

Of course, we don’t offer wood that has bark, sap or “greenwood” present (We do offer Catappa bark- but that’s a different story altogether!), so you need not worry about that stuff. 

Some of the cool wood that we now offer at Tannin includes the much-loved “Mopani” wood from South Africa, as well as “Spider Wood”, “Star Wood”, and Manzanita…These are terrific, easy-to use woods that can really add a special “something to any tank! Each has a distinctive "personality", aesthetic, and utility. All are safe, affordable wood, suitable for a variety of aquatic uses.

In future columns, we'll take a look at the specific types of wood that we offer, and how best to use them in your aquarium!

Until then...

Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


2 Responses

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman

October 10, 2020

Hi Laura,

Sorry to hear about the loss of your Betta… Hard to say what the cause could have been. Personally, I don’t think it was anything leaching from the wood itself. However, perhaps it could have been exposed to something toxic along the chain of command, from supplier to store shelf…Like a cleaning spray or something. I mean, likely not, but you never know. SO many possibilities. If the tank was clad, that removes major cause…Just a real potential unknown…😫 -Scott

Laura M Sutherland
Laura M Sutherland

October 10, 2020

I bought some ZooMed mopani wood from my local pet store and being that I didn’t have a pot big enough to boil it I thoroughly soaked it in boiling water about 4 times before adding to my new 10 gallon divided tank. One piece on each side. Tank is fully cycled so I brought home a beautiful betta to live on one side of the tank and within 48 hours he was dead. The only thing different in that tank opposed to another 10 gallon divided that I had also set up and cycled was the mopani wood. Is it possible that there was sap? Doesn’t a company as large as ZooMed check for that? I had a significant amount of tannins in the water but that was to be expected? I’m heartbroken that this beautiful, and up til then, healthy fish suffered because of something that I could have controlled.
Any help? Thoughts?

Thank you in advance,

Laura Sutherland

Leave a comment