A quick look at some...looks...

Those of you who follow our blog know that I have thing about "evolving" aquarium and leaving them to their own devices for extended periods of time. Now, as a vendor, that certainly is at odds at time with my desire to show some new looks to inspire our community and demonstrate new ideas, concepts, and products.

New looks.

The first iteration of a blackwater/botanical-style aquarium that we created here specifically for Tannin was the "botanical zone" tank back in 2016, using some manzanita and river stones as the "base hardscape", and an assortment of seed pods, leaves, and other botanical items as an integral part of the aesthetic.

This was a fun scape, because it was actually remarkably simple to execute, used some long-lasting botanicals, and was a basis for evolving into something different and hopefully, inspiring over time.

It was fun to incorporate a variety of leaves into the scape, and allow them to "accumulate" among the Manzanita branches. The fishes, particularly my APisto collection- really enjoyed this!

Of course, all things evolve, and thanks to a gift of Polygonum cuttings from our friend, the talented Luis Navarro, we decided to "toss some sprigs" into this milieu. And lo and behold, they grew, and looked kind of cool in this 'scape.

This was a lot of fun, as well as helping show our new and growing community that it was entirely possible to grow plants in blackwater/botanical-style aquariums.

And the growth WAS substantial, and this was significant, because, quite honestly, no special "accommodations" were made for the plants, vis a vis fertilizer, increased lighting, etc.

And of course, we developed and shared our routines for replenishing leaves and keeping the aesthetic going via these additions. We were seeing the results oaf a patient, steady practice...a recommendation we've made for some time to our community.

This tank was so stable; so easy to maintain...a real joy. And like all good hobbyists with more ideas than aquariums, we decided it was time to rip it apart and play with some new stuff- 'cause thats what fish geeks do, right?

It's no secret that I have an obsession with Mopani wood. I not only love the look of this wood- I LOVE the fact that no one seems to like the damn stuff. That makes it irresistible to me. I mean, if everyone hates it, it's time to double down and do an entire scape based on it, right?

And it was also about this time that my friend, Tai Strietman, got me really into the idea of using palm fronds in our botanical-style tanks. Having seen his brilliant aquariums, I had no choice but to incorporate them into my 'scape!

This was sort of a "transitional scape" for us...I never intended to keep it up for a long period of time. Rather, it was one of those "proof of concept" things I was playing with to incorporate some elements that I thought would be fun to see in action in an aquarium together. I liked it, and kept it going a lot longer than I thought I would! 

And naturally, being as much a "purveyor of inspiration" as I am a reseller of botanicals, it was time to play with a new look!

This time, I wanted to play with mangrove wood. Mangrove is interesting, because it has a very unique look, and an interesting impact on the overall appearance and ecology of the closed aquatic environment, particularly in the blackwater niche.

Like Mopani, it tend to impart a surprising amount of color into the water, and- because it's what I call a "dirty" wood- one with a lot of organic material bound up in its tissues, triggers the growth of a lot of biofilm, "infusoria", and other organisms. And it created a sort of almost "thick" look to the water for a while that was incredibly natural and just beautiful to look at! And the color was gorgeous...

Of course, this iteration evolved a bit, from just utilizing the heavier mangrove roots to playing with the lighter branches, as well, for a more complex look and experience, not unlike the flooded South American forest floors that I obsess over!

This dark, "rich-looking" 'scape really captured the vibe I was seeking, and being in my home, enhanced the overall aesthetic of the room in which the aquarium was situated.

Never content to simply sit back and enjoy, within 6 months, it was time to "iterate" again. I wanted to show how you could take a more "biotope-type" look and sort of  blend it with a higher-concept, more "contrived" 'scape. Some of the heavier pieces were removed, and we only used the lighter branchy pieces, creating a more "negative-space-positive" look.

And of course, it was a lot of fun to just keep playing with ideas, and the urge to work more with this "fusion idea" of biotope-inspired and "artistic" that I had to evolve the tank again, switching ti up entirely, utilizing a new type of wood.

So-called "Blonde Spider Wood" is an interesting type of wood, one which I haven't played all that much with in the past. It's a light, very gnarled, "root-derived" wood that is easy to work with. However, it is a bit challenging to utilize it in a way that looks more natural, and less derived, IMHO. So the challenge was irresistible to me!

I fell into a configuration that was common in many reef aquariums I've kept...sort of a peninsular look. By "weaving" a few peices of wood together, the goal was to see if, once the biofilms and leaves and such start forming and decomposing, that a somewhat more natural-looking scene could be created. There idea here was to create a stylized version of the little bends you see I streams, where leaves and botanical materials accumulate within the "matrix" of wood.

And, with some mangrove and Live Oak leaves "installed" in toe matrix, the evolution has begun! And man, the one observation I've made is that this combination produces some seriously tinted, almost "orange-ish" water!

And, we're looking forward to seeing where this 'scape takes us- where it evolves to. And how long it lasts, lol!

As a vendor, I enjoy showing you  different looks that you can achieve with the spectrum of materials we offer. And it can occasionally be contrary to some of my personal obsession with "set and evolve" 'scapes which remain untouched to do their thing for long, long periods of time! Well, with my brackish tank, I've decided to leave it be for at least year or so before even contemplating any major changes, so it's fun to see it truly evolve!

And through all of these changes and iterations, I sometimes wonder: What has evolved more? My personal tastes? My skills? The aquaecapes themselves? Or my mindset, learning to "let go" in the interest of inspiring others with lots of new looks?


Of one thing I am certain:

I need more aquariums!

The aesthetics my change, but one thing never really does:

Our love of deeply tinted water.

Keep evolving. Keep striving. Keep playing. Keep sharing...

Stay active. Stay involved. Stay creative. Stay innovative...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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