Aquascaping cues from the flooded forests...findings from a "deep dive"

One of the things that I love the most about our blackwater/botnaical-style tanks is the ability to "edit" your aquarium with relative ease. Our style of aquarium definitely facilitates easy "editing" because of the very nature of the natural habitats it attempts to replicate. Materials are constantly being re-distributed, added to, and and displaced by current, wind, and actively foraging fishes.

The idea of fishes doing some of your "modifications" is pretty interesting to me. As a lover of small cichlids and catfishes, you get used to a certain amount of "movement" of your aquascaping materials in the aquarium. And you understand that it's almost a "compliment" when they do move stuff around. It means that they are comfortable in their environment. Comfortable enough to engage in eons-old natural behaviors, such as foraging, creating territories, and if we're lucky, spawning.

Which is why I'm becoming more and more of an "advocate"of a more well, "disheveled" sort of scape. Quite simply, this is more in line with what's happening in the wild habitats.  I've spent hours pouring over Mike Tuccinardi's igapo pics/videos from the Rio Negro area, and Ivan Mikolji's videos from the Amazon region, and have really looked closely at the way materials are distributed within the aquatic environments.

I have concluded (as if this were some hugely important find, lol) that it could be possible to place too much emphasis on style in our tanks, as far as placement of materials is concerned. Now, granted, I like a  good "foundational hardscape" of wood and/or rock, which sets the stage, as much as the next guy, but I am less and less concerned with the placement of the botanical materials on the hardscape.

Since these materials will decompose and alter their "morphology" as they do so, it becomes more of an effort to keep a real "design" using them in this fashion. It's very much a transitory type of environment. Or, I think more properly ephemeral- so it makes more sense for me as an aquascaper using botanicals to place more emphasis on the selection of specific combinations of materials I use to give me the overall "effect' that I want than it does to emphasize the physical placement of each item.

It's definitely influencing my next aquarium efforts...

My next botanical mix in my office aquarium  will be comprised of some "woodier" botanicals, like "Terra Sorrindo Pods", "Encontro Pods", and Coco Curls, with perhaps a few Banana Stem pieces thrown into the mix. The "softer", more transient component of the botanical "matrix" will be Guava and Magnolia leaves, with some "Nano Catappa" thrown into the mix as well. I think random "scatterings" of some radically different-looking materials, such as "Rio Fruta", Flor Rio, and "Lampada Pods" or "Manta Pods" will serve as some "standouts" within the more homogenous (in regards to color palette and perhaps texture) mix of materials I've selected.

Like many of you, I'm a literal "kid in a candy store" when it comes to contemplating my botanical selections...the choices are many and varied. Of course, the point of this blog was not to be a recitation of the Tannin Aquatics catalog of offerings. Rather, it's to emphasize the fact that you have many options when attempting to replicate these dynamic natural habitats i the aquarium.


I guess the idea is to have a significant covering of materials, without having too many different botanical items within the same area. Again, my cues come from observing the natural settings, where it's pretty apparent what is most abundant. Oh, in case you were wondering- in most of these habitats, it's leaves. Yeah, real shocker, huh? To show you how geeky I am about this stuff, I literally poured over pics and video screen shots of some of these igapo habitats, and counted the number of leaves versus other botanical items in the shots, to get a sort of  leaf to botanical "ratio" that is common in these systems. Although different areas would obviously vary, based on the pics I've "analyzed", it works out to about 70% leaves to 30% "other botanical items." 

Well, I suppose that makes sense, right? Flooded forests consist mainly of trees, and the most abundant thing you fin on a tree is leaves, with fruits, bark, branches, and other parts comprising a smaller percentage. And of course, being a flooded forest floor, this habitat has a lot of other materials that were present on the substrate before the rainy season- yet by percentage, it's leaves that dominate.

Okay, I've pretty much beaten the shit out of these points, but this "deep dive" into the compositional dynamics of botanical beds in the wild was a fairly obsessive "project" of mine for the past few months! (Ahh, the stuff we geek out about!). These findings will definitely influence my future aquaecapes, and I think they will most certainly impact the next botanical variety packs we offer. Some of the next packs will have larger quantities of fewer items, I think, to really more accurately reflect this "botanical ratio" thing.

There is obviously so much to learn, so much to experiment with. We're now at a phase that's beyond "can this work?", have a greater conceptual and functional understanding of the dynamic of blackwater/botanical-style aquariums, and are entering a more experimental, more "executional" stage. We understand the biofilms, decomposition, epiphytic algae, etc, and are no longer surprised or freaked out about them. We understand more about what to expect in our aquariums, and more about how it mirrors some of the processes that happen in nature. And with an energized, enthused, and highly engaged global community of creative "tinters" our little botanical world will continue to evolve as one of the more unique, progressive, and open aquarium hobby niches around. 

And guess what? Every new aquarium- every new idea executed- every successful tank, and every new member of our community- has the potential to discover, experiment, contribute, and share the wonders and excitement of the blackwater. botanical-style aquarium world. It's "ground floor", "open source", or whatever buzz words you want to use. Most of all, it's fascinating. 

And really, really fun.

Have a great day!

Stay excited. Stay open-minded. Stay experimental. Stay unconventional.

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics



Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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