Behind the Botanical: When in the jungle...Act like a monkey; sort of: Meet the "Monkey Pot"

Back in the really early days of Tannin Aquatics, when global domination of the botanical/blackwater aquarium movement was just a cool ambition ('cause there was no movement to dominate...), I spent large amounts of time scouring references and finding suppliers worldwide for unusual botanicals to test and offer to our customers- you know, to build up our selection.

In my studies, I kept hearing about these big 'ol botanicals called "Monkey Pots." 

My frog and herp friends patiently pleaded with me for months to source the cool, elusive, but highly coveted "Monkey Pot!"  They'd be like, "Trust me- you'll LOVE them- and so will your customers!"

How could I NOT try to source these?

(My friend Paul Dema from Vivariums in The Mist knows a thing or two about Monkey Pots!)

After a few months of searching, and a few false starts, we found a great sustainable international source for these awesome botanicals! And boy, those frog and herp guys really knew what they were talking about!  These pods are "as advertised"- big, durable, and really useful.

Oh, and they look cool, too!

Bring on the "Monkey Pots!"

Yeah, this is a sort of ridiculous name...However, it's one which us fish geeks can't be blamed for.

Nope. Not THIS time.

You know my new-found contempt for stupid, made-up names for botanicals is starting to catch on with some of you, hopefully setting a standard, and leaving would-be "competitors" still using their ripped-off versions of our original made-up lame-ass names for their stuff and scratching their heads as Tannin accelerates forward (Oh, no vitriol there, right? Umm...).

However, in this instance, this is what the damn thing is actually called by pretty much everyone in the region from which they come (South America). In the local languages, the name is castanha-de-sapucaia.

In fact, there is a real legit story behind the name...a proverb, actually- with a lesson for us all, perhaps:

"A wise old monkey doesn't stick its hand into a pot.". 

This proverb is in reference to how a young monkey may plunge its entire hand deep into the pod in an attempt to grab all of the nuts at one time, and not be able to remove a whole fistful of exposed nuts through the opening...whereas an older, experienced individual will remove the nuts one at a time. Patience.

Damn smart, those monkeys. Some of 'em would make great aquarists, huh?

And, yes-  it's technically a fruit capsule, produced from the abundant tree, Lecythis pisonis, native to South America -most notably, the Amazonian region. Astute, particularly geeky readers of "The Tint" will recognize the name as a derivative of the family  Lecythidaceae, which just happens to be the family in which the genus Cariniana is know, the "Cariniana Pod?" Yeah...this family has a number of botanical-producing trees in it, right?


Hmm...Lecythidae...'s also known as the taxonomic family which contains the genus Bertholletia- the genus which contains the tree, Bertholletia excelsa- the bearer of the "Brazil Nut." You know, the one that comes in the can of "mixed nuts" that no one really likes? The one that, if you buy it in the shell, you need a  freakin' sledge hammer to crack?

Yeah. That one.


More useless Brazil Nut trivia? Check this out: Because of their larger size size, they tend to rise to the top of the can of mixed nuts from vibrations which are encountered during transport...this is a textbook example of the physics concept of granular convectionwhich for this reason is frequently called...wait for it...the "Brazil Nut effect." (I am totally serious!)

Okay, end of my tangent on Brazil Nuts. 

So, hey-next time you're lamenting that my Catappa leaf prices are a dollar more than some nameless person on eBay or whomever, remember that Tannin Aquatics gives you way more useful information and value about our botanicals than anyone out there. I mean, it's really important to know a bit more about the "twigs and nuts" you toss into your aquarium, right? Isn't that worth something?

Okay. Don't answer that.

Back to the tree...

It's a really freakin' tall tree. It grows to about 98 ft./30m in height, so you pretty much have to be a monkey to get up into them!

And, as you have surmised by now, these large, woody, gourd-like fruits are a favorite of...well- monkeys, which reach in and yank out the nutritious fruit inside, discarding the hard outer nut...Fortunately for us, monkeys are not aquarists, or they would have figured out a way to sell these directly to the consumer at really high prices, instead of just tossing 'em down to the forest floor.

They're big, too! The fruits are "globose" or oblong in shape, and woody, averaging around 2.5"-6" ( 6.35 to 15.24 cm) long, and 3" to 8" (7.62 to 20.32 cm) or more wide.

And let me tell you, the fruits of Lecythis pisonus are...well- "a tough nut to crack" as they say! The pericarp- or more specifically, the "exocarp"- the outer layer of the fruit- is rock-hard and extremely durable, which challenges both humans and primates in their quest for the edible fruit inside. 

The pericarp can be up to 1.2" (3cm) thick, and has a tight-fitting "lid" that bursts open when they mature releasing the fruit. The fallen, empty nuts dry out and are collected and used for a variety of purposes, including utensils, bowls, etc. by the indigenous peoples of the region...Also, infusions of the bark and pericarp are used in local medicine for treating liver complaints.

Sad side story- and my final primate reference in this piece: Native hunters would allegedly bait young monkeys with tempting food items placed in the empty shells.  From Hooker's comprehensive Journal of Botany (1849) comes this charming description of how they whack the hapless monkeys who fall for this trick:

“The mouth of the capsule, it will be observed, is narrower than the inside; this being filled with sugar, and laid in a place frequented by monkeys.The monkeys grasp the sugar, and by this means enlarge the paw so as to be unable to extricate it, while their greediness forbids the opening of the paw and loss of the sugar.
The heavy fruit of Lecythis prevents the escape of the animal, who is pursued and taken into the monkey trap.”

Shit. It sucks to be a monkey in some places, huh? Urghh...How could they fall for that? And note the use of the word "greediness?" Well,  I also suppose that some monkeys, like humans, are lazy...and if ever there were an example of how laziness literally can kill- well...

(A wiser, older Capuchin monkey. Pic by David M. Jensen-cc-by-sa-3.0)

Wow, what a downer, huh? Especially if you're a monkey!

Let's think about happier, less depressing uses for them!

For the fish or frog geek, they're great looking and have plenty of uses: In the vivarium, you can use 'em as a water vessel, or even a little planter. In the aquarium, the uses are manyfold:  Hiding space, breeding cave, etc., etc., etc. I think that they are a solid natural "stand-in" for the venerable clay pot for fish spawning. They have a certain "look" that I think is far, far sexier than an inverted flower pot. I mean, that's just my opinion, but...


It's another one of those botanicals which compels us to ponder if they perform a similar role in nature as they do in the aquarium. Indeed, their habitat is known to include "fertile flood plains in the rainforest, and in more dense, primary forest."

Yeah. Liking the sound of THAT!

I mean, it is totally conceivable that these forest floors in their native range are subjected to seasonal inundation...and if a Monkey Pot just happens to be lying on the (now submerged) forest floor, wouldn't YOU use it as a cave or spawning site if you were a fish that swam into the area?

Yep. I would!

As you might assume, there is some preparation needed if you're going to use them in an aquarium. Fortunately, they are relatively easy to prepare: You simply boil and/or soak the living shit out of them until they saturate and sink! I mean, it could take 20 minutes or two hours...Patience.

Will they leach out tannins and such and tint your water? Well, sure, there might be some tannins in the exocarp- like there are in most other terrestrial botanical materials, but rest assured, the Monkey Pot will never be one of the botanicals which we recommend specifically for "tinting" your water! 

This is one we pretty much know that you're really gonna love, if you haven't played with it before...And they last a really, really long time, which makes them a great value, too! Like, I've literally had specimens down for over 2 years, with no loss of "structural integrity" noted!


Like, really freakin' durable.

You can use them over and over again, in my experience. For all sorts of stuff. Literally hundreds of possibilities! 

Just- don't get your hand stuck in them...Ok, bad joke.

Until next time...

Stay curious. Stay educated. Stay creative. Stay patient...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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