One of the many geeky things I occasionally do is to sit back and reflect upon the types of aquariums that we create and consider the whole idea that we add natural botanical materials to our aquariums. I mean, it's a perfectly normal sort of thing...it happens in nature all the time. Stuff falls from trees and surrounding shrubs into streams, or onto the forest floor, only to be submerged when the rains flood the forest seasonally.
We get that.
And we're kind of borderline "obsessed" with these habitats, right?
The funny part is that we just sort of add different botanicals to our tanks, often with little consideration to what these seed pods and such that we're tossing in actually are; where they come from, and what they "bring to the table." We never gave a ton of detail on them other than their good looks.
I think this should change.
So, I thought that it might be nice to take a "deep dive" from time to time at some of the cool botanicals we offer here at Tannin, and offer you a bit more information about them that you might be able to contemplate when selecting them for use in your next aquarium project! We call it "Behind the Botanical!" (probably more than you care to know about each one, but hey, this is what geeks do...)
Today, let's focus on one of our "core" botanicals...
A seed pod which we've worked with for years, and one which has become one of our most popular: The (newly re-named) "Mokha Pod." Yeah, those of you Tannin "regulars" will remember that we used to call this pod the "Lampada Pod", which is the Portuguese word for "light bulb"- because its general shape reminded us of a classic light bulb!
After undertaking our concerted effort to ditch the fictitious names, we've re-christened it "Mokha Pod", which reflects the Hindi language term (used in the region of India where it comes from) for the tree on which the seed pod is found.
Botanists know this species as Shrebera swietenioides. It's a member of the family Oleaceae...olives! Now, this isn't the kind you'd eat...Let's just get that out of the way. The number of species in the Oleaceae is over 700 species (including Ash, Jasmine, and a few other well-known trees and shrubs), with members found in regions as far-ranging as Africa, India, Australia, and South America. Our supplier of Shrebera swietenioides is located in India, and it's a pretty common in that region.
The Shrebera swieteniodes tree is a deciduous tree with a large, dense crown; it can grow up to 60 feet/20 meters tall! The wood of this tree is very "close-grained", heavy, hard and quite durable. It's less prone to cracking or warping than many other woods in the region, and has become a favorite of weavers to use in the construction of many parts of their looms, particularly for the beam, and has earned the title, "Weaver's Beam Tree" in its native region!
(The "Weaver's Beam Tree" in all its glory- Image by Raffi Kojian ( Image used under CC BY-SA 4.0)
"Mokha Pods" are actually the fruit capsule of the tree, and are woody, protective shells for the delicate fruit. It's thought by locals that the fruit has some medicinal benefits.
Of course, what we love is the fact that the fruit capsules are "woody"- as this means that they're durable, "structurally functional", and aesthetically interesting for our purposes!
And, like seed capsules of many tropical trees, they do contain compounds like polyphenols, flavonoids and, of course- tannins. We can make that very anecdotal "jump" and perhaps infer that these compounds are released into the water when they are submerged, much like has been done with Catappa or other botanicals!
Now, the Mokha Pods we receive from our supplier come in two "versions", if you will: The "sections", which are just that- halves of the fruit capsule, and "Split Mokha Pods", which are the more intact, slightly opened capsule (formerly called the amusing title of "Snapping Lampada Pod").
Of the two "varieties," the "split" version are a bit more scarce, and arguably more iinteresting for those who intend to use them for shelter for small fishes or shrimp. They are useful for that purpose in much the same way an inverted clam shell would be in a reef aquarium, only more suited for the types of aquatic systems we work with, of course.
At this point, I am stepping back to clap myself up for writing what has arguably been the longest- and ONLY - dissertation on Shrebera swietenioides ever written in an aquarium-related blog. Yeah, so those of you who find some other vendor somewhere selling these pods (likely under what I can now confidently call a "stupid, made-up name!") for a dollar less or whatever- ask yourself...Is the savings really worth it? Don't you get more value from us? Where else can learn this much about a seed pod for aquarium use?
Wait, don't answer that! LOL.
We find that boiling these pods for at least 45 minutes to an hour is needed to break down the lignin in their tissue and get them saturated enough to sink. Place them in a pot of water and bring it to a steady boil. Continue to "cook" these pods for a minimum of one hour, prodding them periodically with a wooden spoon to push them under water for greater saturation.
Like most botanicals with woody tissues, they'll leach out a small amount of tannins initially, but not to the same extent as most leaves or bark, etc. These pods are a really great aesthetic component for your 'scape, offering that "generic tropical" look that will no doubt work in all sorts of aquascapes! Of course, for a Southeast Asian or Indian-Inspired biotope aquarium or vivarium, these would be truly great to use.
They last a very long time submerged- especially if you don't have fishes like Plecos rasping at them. In fact, I've found them completely intact (covered in biofilm, but none the worse for wear) after more than a year underwater!
We hope you've enjoyed this "deeper dive" into this popular botanical; if nothing else, we hope it's inspired you to look beyond just the pretty looks and to contemplate where your botanicals come from, how they grow, and what sort of possibilities await you when you use them in your aquatic display!
Stay intrigued. Stay curious. Stay inspired. Stay creative. Stay unique...
And Stay Wet.
Thanks for the kind words! It’s a lot of fun to cut through the misinformation (or LACK of information, as the case may be!). I’ve become a big fan of the Walstad ’Method"; I realize that some planted aquarists have different thoughts on that approach, but I think it dovetails well with what we think about on these pages…So much to learn!
Beautiful product, images, and article. Well done Scott. I’m roughly two years into my personal journey with planted aquariums, coming from the Walstad school of thought. Tannins and other dissolvable biological chemicals is the next domain that I’m planning on exploring with my 27L Cube Garden. Thank you for providing the wealth of information on the properly named Mokha Pod!