"About those leaves of yours..."

We receive a lot of questions about all sorts of stuff, ranging from "How much does it cost to ship to__________?" to stuff like, "Will your Fishtail Palm Stems accurately represent the materials found in the jungle streams of Kalimantan, Borneo?"

You know, normal, everyday stuff.  :)

One of the more common questions we receive concerns how many leaves or other botanicals it takes, or how long it takes, to achieve a certain level of "tint" in the water, or to lower the pH by a certain amount. There seems to be a desire among many of us in the hobby to have a formula- a "recipe", if you will- to achieve a certain set of results in a certain time frame, by adding a certain amount of stuff to the water.

Can you blame us?

I mean, from the beginning of our hobby "career", we're used to instructions, rules, and products that tell us to use "X" amount per gallon/liter of water as a matter of practice, ostensibly with the goal of influencing water parameters or achieving some other results. We have come to accept these guidelines and instructions as a roadmap of sorts to achieve the results we want.

And I think that mindset of, "Just add_______" has made us a bit "soft" as hobbyists.


I think it's taken a bit of the "learning curve" out of the hobby, and made many of us expect absolutely predictable results from everything we do or add to our tanks. And as a result, when something doesn't perform absolutely as expected- or in a manner that "they" say it will- we immediately default to "This doesn't work!" or worse yet, "Something is wrong!"

And I think that's a detrimental thing.

I mean, we're dealing with living systems, chock full of variables the likes of which we may not even know for sure. Every drop of (insert favorite aquarium additive) we add to our tanks has to interact with the environmental parameters that we've set up, and those may be slightly different from the parameters in the manufacturer's test setups, or the tank of the guy down the street, or...

And that could yield different results and outcomes, thus necessitating the famous advertising line, "Your results may vary..."

Manufacturers cannot be expected to test for every possible environmental variation, filtration system, fish or plant population, etc. Rather, they base the expected results on what should be achieved by "most" hobbyists in the widest variety of situations...in generalized terms.

In other words, results just can't be 100% predictable.

Some may call this "playing it safe" on the part of aquarium manufacturers. I call it being responsible.

And besides, where is the "fun" in just following a set of instructions and procedures and POW! Instant Amazon!

Okay, fun for some, I suppose...but for geeks like me? 


Back to those leaves...

If you're adding certain leaves or botanicals to your tank, we can make only some "generalized" predictions that you're likely to see some results under "typical" aquarium circumstances. (whatever those actually are)

And even that is sort of pushing it, really.

A lot of aquarists ask us if adding a given amount of botanicals (leaves and/or seed pods) will reduce the pH of their water to some specified levels. Unfortunately, we simply can't tell you that they will, and to what level they will impact this variable. Many hobbyists may start out with hard, alkaline water and the ability of a given amount of botanicals to reduce the pH is seriously limited. I've said it numerous times, but botanicals are not capable of "softening" water.

You need an RO/DI unit to create soft water from your tap water. An investment that you have to consider and determine for yourself wether or not it's economically achievable and worthwhile for your needs.

In fact, it's actually unpredictable what specific quantities of tannins and/or other pH-influencing compounds are released into the water by a given quantity/type of botanicals, and how they will in fact, influence the pH of the water as well. Oh, and as we've mentioned before- the "tint" of the water is by no means indicative of the pH or other parameters.

And of course, there are numerous variables which may affect the ability of botanicals to influence the environmental parameters of a given aquarium.

Obviously, use of chemical filtration media, such as activated carbon, which indiscriminately removes all sorts of compounds from the water, impact this significantly. Perhaps other widely varying factors, like temperature, water movement, fish population density, substrate, etc., etc. also come into play, adding to the "grab bag" of variables!

We pretty much have to speak in generalities here!  

Yeah, sort of sounds like an excuse, but we really have no way of telling you to use "X" number of leaves or whatever per gallon to achieve a specific set of results. And no one else does, either.

Sure, we've developed our "variety packs" of botanicals with assortments of botanicals which we feel will provide "some" impact on aquariums within a rough size range, but it's a guess at best. We have to be "rugged individualists", to some extent, and do our own experimentation and develop our own "_____  leaves/botanicals per gallon" formulas, tailored to our specific aquariums.

The best recommendation we could make is to purchase/collect more botanicals than you think you'd need for a given sized aquarium. Worst case scenario here is that you'll have some extra materials to "top off" as needed.

"Gee, Scott- super helpful!"

Well, yeah, it's pretty much impossible for me to be more specific. It's simply not responsible. Perhaps one day, we will know exactly what types of tannins and humic substances should be added to a given volume of water with a given starting set of parameters in order to influence the pH by a specific range. Perhaps a true "blackwater tonic" will come to market, which has been thoroughly tested against a variety of aquarium conditions, and will offer a truly defined set of results.

In the mean time, we'll just keep adding those leaves and seed pods to our tanks, without a specific set of expectations, and testing to see how they influence our closed aquatic environments. Playing with botanicals is still more of an "art" than a science...and the opportunity to innovate and help develop "best practices" is wide open for us as hobbyists to explore.

Isn't that better than simply adding "X" number of leaves per gallon and calling it a day?

I think so.

Stay experimental. Stay bold. Stay studious. Stay open-minded. Stay disciplined...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 



Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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