Botanical preparation. Revised. Reconsidered. Reimagined?

It seems like not a day goes by when we're not learning something new in this blackwater, botanical-style aquarium world. I guess I should really start calling it something like "Natural Botanical Style" aquarium, because it's more than just blackwater- one thing I know is that not everyone loves the tinted water, but a growing number of hobbyists are loving the idea of incorporating seed pods, leaves, bark, and other natural materials into their aquariums.

And of course, with all of the new interest, more and more people are utilizing botanicals and including them in their aquascapes, breeding aquariums, nursery tanks, vivariums, paludariums, brackish tanks, etc. etc., we have an ever-expanding "body of work" and experience with this stuff to call on.

One of the things I like to revisit (like, all the time) is the "art and science" of botanical preparation. Now, we all kind of "know the drill" by now- you likely could simply toss leaves into your aquarium with a little rinse in fresh water, assuming they were collected from a non-polluted/contaminated source. 

You could...

That being said, I'm a big one for steeping them or even briefly boiling them. Despite the initial and obvious concern among people that a brief boil or steep in boiling water will remove "all of the tannins" from the leaves, I'm inclined to say that this concern is largely unjustified. I steep or boil most of my leaves- have for years- and my tanks are as "dark" as anyone's, and I don't think that the long-term "loss" of tannins is negligible. 

To me, the benefits of steeping or boiling leaves outweigh any of the loss of tannins you might think is happening. First, leaves have surface dirt and pollutants in their outer tissues, and the boiling releases these materials. In addition, it breaks down these layers, saturating them with water and allowing the leaves to sink to the bottom more quickly and easily than if you just toss 'em in.

So- my quick recommendation for leaves: Boil briefly or steep in boiling water for about 10-15 minutes or so.

Now, what about botanicals like seed pods and such?

Well, the reality about preparation of the other botanicals is that you almost HAVE to boil them. For all the reason above (helping to remove surface dirt/organics and break down outer tissues), and for the simple fact that most of them simply won't sink unless they are boiled for some period of time. Botanicals like "Jungle Pods" and "Savu Pods" take a considerable amount of time to saturate and sink- sometimes an hour or more!

Again, it's not really a problem, IMHO, about losing some of the tint-producing botanicals or humid substances via the prep process...I mean, sure, you will likely lose some of these compounds, but I think that over the long term, as these materials break down, you'll realize a lot of this material relative to what you might lose.

In the end, the practice of preparation of botanicals is really about embracing a procedure or set of practices to "crack off" any surface pollutants or contaminants present in the tissues of the botanicals, and to break down some of the external tissues and lignin in heavier seed pods, facilitating saturation and easier submersion.

Of course, there is always the argument that suggests, "Nature doesn't wash or boil leaves before they fall into water..." Yeah, but nature isn't a closed glass or acrylic box...and...dilution...and...okay, you get my point. It just make sense to embrace some preparation protocol here.

This is nothing really new, right?

We've been a preaching, "Rinse. Prep. Add Slowly." mantra for the three plus years of Tannin's existence. And it just makes sense, right? I mean, you're adding biological load to closed system aquariums...and taking measures to control the input of these materials, as well as the conditions in which they are prepared. 

And the process is evolving. The more experience we have with this stuff, the easier it is to create effective "best practices!"

And the greater the probability for success for the greatest number of hobbyists.

Couldn't ask fo much more than that!

Stay smart. Stay diligent. Stay curious. Stay effective...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 



Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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