Enter The Jungle

I have no idea what put me on this course, but I'm still pre-occupied with the idea of tanks run amok...sort of..Have you ever had that tank where the plants kind of grew out of control a bit, covering a lot of space in a "jungle like" canopy of green?

You hear that term "jungle" tossed around in fish circles quite a bit to describe a tank that, for whatever reason, got "out of control", with rampant plant growth (or coral growth, in the reef world) seemingly in every direction. 

Like, that's a bad thing?

I suppose, one could make the argument that if you're trying to achieve one of these "artistic", yet sterile-looking "fantasy-world" 'scapes that seem to do so well in international aquascaping competitions these days, this could be your worst nightmare. I know that there are a number of these "aquarium-as-kinetic-art" people who look at our idea of a "botanical-style" aquarium like one of mine or yours, with it's dark brown water, "deliberately aggregated confusion" of leaf litter in various states of decomposition, seed pods, biofilms, and randomly-placed plants, and laugh in disgust.


It's indicative of rigid thinking.

The kind of thinking that doesn't allow us the comparative luxury of understanding the beauty in all natural processes, even when not controlled by man. It's a form of stubbornness that we in the hobby have perpetuated in the past few decades, seemingly rejecting any way of aquascaping an aquarium other than discipline and perfect, if not artificial-appearing order. To "let things go" to some extent is simply considered "bad technique" or "laziness" on the part of the owner.

On the other hand, when you think about it, and ponder why the plants or coral are growing out of control, we tend to pin it on the laziness of the hobbyist. Laziness? In what way? A  plant or coral did so well that it grew to massive proportions, and took over a tank because it was- well, happy. And we call it laziness? Someone did something-provided some means-for the life forms to grow like they did.

I'd say that's doing something right!

Really, I kind of think it's symbolic of success, in some fashion. I mean, you've got a plant or coral- or groups of 'em- that are so happy that they are literally growing into...a "jungle."

Why is this a bad thing? Is it because it's not healthy for the life forms residing in it? Is it bad because we didn't apply some sort of manicuring or "control" to it? Or, is it because we somehow feel it represents a "rejection" of the accepted notion of "how to do things?"

Oh, sure, sometimes these things happen because the hobbyist was busy- traveling, dealing with other life issues, etc.- and nature just kind of "took its course. So, they weren't "intentional"- but the fact is- the life forms in the tank grew. And grew some more. However, the tank was obviously set up correctly in order to facilitate even this unchecked, unplanned growth, right?

Like in an untended garden, a certain degree of natural chaos ensues when you don't trim, organize, and otherwise "manage" a planted aquarium or reef. Some will thrive, some will do okay, and some will crash. 

And then, there are those among us who deliberately attempt to cultivate a random, seemingly "jungle-like" tank because they love the aesthetic.

And guess what? That's wonderful, too.

My friend Dave is one of the most talented reef aquarists- okay, overall aquarists- I've ever seen. His reef tank is one of the most vibrant and diverse in the US, and his knowledge of system design, equipment, husbandry, and overall technique is far beyond the level that many will ever achieve. I remember a couple of years back, Dave said, "I wanna do a freshwater tank, with livebearers and tetras and the fish I remember from when i was a kid. And I want a JUNGLE of plants!"

And he did it.

And you know what? This seemingly random, choked-with-live-plants aquarium is teeming with life. Healthy, colorful, beautiful life. Living in splendor, really. And I think it's one of the coolest tanks I've ever seen...Just flat-out alive. It holds you in a sort of fish-geek "trance"; you could literally stare at the thing for hours! Again, there are many who would levy the "ignorance", "neglect", "lack of style" arguments against this tank.

But Dave could care less.

Dave did it because he liked it.

That's actually hard for some people to stomach.

And I get it. A lot of hobbyists won't like this, any more than they like my idea of blackwater tanks with decomposing leaves. 

And I get it.

What I don't get is that we ascribe the terms "laziness", "sloppy", "chaotic", or "undisciplined" to systems that are "outside the norm." To me, to ascribe such terms to what are aquarium which meet one of the primary goals of the aquatics hobby- to provide a comfortable, healthy environment for our captive animals-is, itself "lazy", "sloppy", and definitely "undisciplined!"

I think it only fitting to close with a quote by the late, great Takashi Amano- the man revealed worldwide as the advocate of what came to be called the "Nature Aquarium" style...Somehow, his simple words resonate, even if  (IMHO) the message may have been misinterpreted by so many:

"...a layout that is created naturally over time appears a lot more natural than one that is maintained intentionally by the creator." 

Reflect on these words. 

Think about it the next time you see an aquascape which seems to follow no "rules" as laid out by those who feel it necessary to do so. Dare to think like and individual; to push yourself beyond the stubborn, confining barriers that some have imposed on the art of aquascaping.

Welcome in a new way of thinking, accepting, and being open-minded.

Welcome to "The Jungle."

Stay open-minded. Stay unique. Stay strong. Stay creative.Stay Bold.

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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