Simple ways to avoid screwing up your tank and killing your fishes with aquatic botanicals!

Well, I think the succinct and (if I say so myself) somewhat snappy title worked pretty you here, right?

Actually, today's piece has some pretty serious undertones, as the title implies. Yet, you don't need to freak out or anything. We're simply going to discuss a few of the finer points of how to use aquatic botanicals in your aquarium without causing all kinds of trouble!

Obviously, the most important step in utilizing the many botanicals in our that we offer is to properly prepare them for aquatic use. This is the step that absolutely will affect the kind of experience you have with these products, and can impact the lives of your fishes or herps directly and profoundly in either a positive or negative manner, depending upon how you do this.

With zero exceptions, you should never simply drop any of our botanicals right into your aquarium without any sort of preparation process. Yeah, "preparation" in our parlance means cleaning with a light rinse, followed by either boiling them in freshwater, followed by a prolonged "soak" in clean fresh water, or just the prolonged soak. The reasons for the soaking and boiling process are many, far beyond the simple fact that boiling breaks down the structures of many botanicals to the point where they can absorb water and sink easily.

 Boiling serves to release or eliminate some impurities, dirt, dust, and other organic matter that might be trapped in the structure of your botanicals. Remember, these were once part of trees, bushes, and other plants, and as such, were exposed to the elements in their native environments before being dried. Rinsing and boiling them serves to help "sterilize" them to a certain degree as well. If you skip this process, you're adding all sorts of potential impurities and foreign matter into your carefully controlled aquatic environment. It simply makes no sense whatsoever to skip this process.

Boiling and soaking will help release the initial burst of tannins and other organics bound up in the tissue structure of your botanicals, too. This will help manage some of the impact of the humic acids, etc. on your water. Some materials, like Catappa leaves and bark, or Alder Cones, are well-known for this capability and are often employed in aquarium strictly for the purpose of impacting water chemistry, so this gives you some idea as to their capability to affect environmental conditions in a closed aquatic system. Almost any of the other botanicals we offer will release some tannins and humid acids into your system, yet to a much lesser extent. 

Regardless, common sense is important when adding these materials to you established aquarium.

A large quantity of botanicals added to a stable, established aquarium can  potentially affect the general water chemistry of your tank in a rapid manner, including the pH- driving it down quickly in some instances, profoundly affect the fishes and even plants, which don't cope well with rapid environmental changes. Just be cautious and use common sense here. I mean, yeah, to a certain extent, this is "Aquatics 101"- you simply don't want to do anything to your aquarium that results in rapid, significant environmental changes, and using aquatic botanicals is no exception.

So one of the most important- if not, THE most important- rules of using aquatic botanicals is just to not add a ton of them to any established tank all at once. You'll simply create all sorts of potential problems by doing this.

Oh, and it's never a bad idea to use some activated carbon or other chemical filtration media (we love Seachem Purigen) to help manage some of the tannins, humic acids, and other organics that are released into your aquarium water when new botanicals are added.

Soaking of botanicals both before and after boiling is super advantageous, because let's face it- the minute you add botanicals to water, they'll start to break down. Soaking help steep a little of the organic materials out of the botanicals that were released during boiling into an external holding vessel instead of your aquarium-never a bad thing. Waiting a few more days before placing them in your tank is well worth it, IMHO.

Products like leaves will break down over the course of 3-4 weeks or so, whereas many of the "harder" botanicals, like seed pods, etc., will break down over many months. Some of the harder pods, like "Jungle Pods" and "Savu Pods", have lasted for several years for me! Depending on your water chemistry and the degree to which your fishes and inverts (I'm referring to guys like Plecos and ornamental shrimp) "graze" upon the botanicals will directly impact how long they last.

The "scuzz" , as one of my friends so eloquently referred to it, which often accumulates on some of the harder botanicals, forming "fungus-like" sheets, is a "biofilm"- a natural byproduct of the bacterial action that is breaking down some of these materials. It typically will go away on it's own after a few weeks, or is consumed by shrimp. Of course, you can simply wipe down your botanicals and siphon it out. Regardless, it's something you'll probably encounter at some point, and it's perfectly natural, albeit a bit gross to some people! If you want to know more about biofilms and the decomposition process of botanicals, I did an entire blog on it here some time back.

Even with the best prep work, you may occasionally encounter stuff like cloudy water. This is often caused when you add a large quantity of botanicals to a new aquarium, which simply doesn't have the biological capability to break down all of the organics quickly. A few small water changes, continuous use of the aforementioned chemical filtration media, and the passage of time will deal with this issue.

 Once in a while, you might encounter a few aquatic botanicals that will develop a stinky, hydrogen-sulfide-like smell and float to the surface (this happens with "Capsula Pods" on occasion). Simply remove them from the tank as you encounter them. No point in hanging on to one of them in this state!

Aquatic botanicals can help you create dynamic, natural-looking (and functioning) environments for your fishes and plants, with the potential to aesthetically and chemically impact our aquariums in very natural ways. Like anything we add to aquariums, they can also create problems for our tanks if they're not used properly. Proper use involves careful, yet simple preparation before use, and observation and monitoring of the aquarium once they're in the system.

The two key ingredients- patience and common sense- will help any aquarist safely appreciate the joys of using aquatic botanicals in the aquarium.

So, keep observing, apply a healthy does of common sense to your botanical prep..

And stay wet!

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics




Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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