Thoughts on the "organic" experience of blackwater hardscape aquariums

Have you played with aquatic botanicals in your aquarium? Have you created an aquarium that features wood, leaves, and other botanicals, with minimum plants? Have you seen "the tint" imparted by these natural materials in your water?

There is something alluring about hardscapes with aquatic botanicals, wood, and rock. It's been a fascinating aesthetic to me, and I am finding more and more ways to enjoy it.

It's not a new concept to use materials like these in aquaecapes. It is, however, a new attitude towards aquascaping that we're starting see. 

Huh? Yeah, we're seeing hobbyists embrace the idea of an aquarium not as an idealized, crystal clear, pristine little world, but as an imperfect, evolving, organic one, with earthy undertones and the influence of the materials on the environment being appreciated, rather than feared. A blackwater themed, hardscape-driven aquarium with aquatic botanicals reflects, in my opinion, the natural world every bit as well as a high-concept, carefully planted "nature aquarium" does. 

Remember the Japanese concept of "wabi-sabi" we discussed a while back? Blackwater aquariums epitomize it.


"Blackwater" is not just an environment, it's a mood. It's also a way of looking at an aquarium and understanding and accepting the influence that natural botanical materials exert in the overall aquatic environment, just as they do in nature. Because these influences not only provide an aesthetic that's fundamentally different than others more commonly embraced in aquarium-keeping, they provide conditions which lead to natural behaviors- including reproduction- in many fishes.

 In a hardscape-driven, blackwater-themed, aquatic botanical-influenced aquarium, the interplay between the water and the environment is not just a "bonus"- it's the whole ballgame! As soon as these materials are added to the environment, they begin to soften, break down, and impart tannins and humid acids, as well as a host of  other organic material into the water column, just as in nature. Imagine, one of the natural world's most alluring aquatic environments in your home aquarium!

As an aquarist, a little bit of "faith" in the natural process and a willingness to let go of your preconceptions of exactly what an aquarium should look like is necessary. Once you free your mind of  these "prejudices", you will really begin to accept and appreciate the natural beauty of what these systems are all about.

A rich, varied, and aesthetically different experience is easily within your reach. And accepting the influence and conditions created by these natural materials will make your life as an aquarist a bit easier, in my opinion. How so, you ask?

Well, think about it. In a blackwater hardscape, you're not spending your time attempting to control or manage every process that occurs in the aquarium. Picture this: You're not constantly pruning, fertilizing, or otherwise "managing" the evolution of the environment in an attempt to preserve it in it's current state. Rather, other than selecting, placing, and occasionally replacing aquatic botanicals as needed to achieve the look and feel you want, you're allowing your aquarium to evolve on its own- freeing you to enjoy the process.

As a keeper of a blackwater aquarium, you're accepting the decomposition and natural aesthetic change that occurs as these materials break down, rather than playing "tug 'o war" with them.

We're proud to be a part of this "movement" within the hobby, following, and perhaps, to a small degree- influencing- its growth.

Leaps of faith and letting go are not themes we often associate with aquarium keeping, so it's a fundamentally different experience, a mental shift, and a completely different "vibe" when you work with a blackwater system.

We kind of think it's worth it, and we think you will, too. Give a blackwater system a try, and see where it takes you.

Stay open minded. Stay creative.

And stay wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics



Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


2 Responses

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman

February 13, 2020

Um, we have like, I dunno- maybe 400 or more articles right here on the subject. You’re here, so this is a good starting point, we think!



February 12, 2020

I like the idea
How you getting to it in practice?

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