One of the things I enjoy best (as both a hobbyist and a business owner) is helping fellow fish geeks get indoctrinated into the world of more natural-looking (and functioning) blackwater, botanical-style aquariums. Getting into this little specialty area of the hobby requires a lot of self-education, open-mindedness, and a willingness to try something just a bit different!
Now, as part of this process, we have to familiarize ourselves with the appearance, effects, and processes which take place in our aquariums when we utilize botanicals. We've written so much about the unique aesthetics, and the "mental shift" to embracing a more "earthy" tank with decomposing materials, tinted water, and biofilms that you'd pretty much have to be "living under a rock" (okay, THAT'S extreme, but you get the idea...) to not expect this kind of stuff with these materials.
One of the "core principles" we need to think about when we contemplate adding botanical materials into our aquariums is to consider how much and how many of what type and size of materials would work.
I mean, this DOES seem pretty basic; however, adding the right materials can really "make or break" the look of the aquascape.
Did you catch the part about "size" in the earlier paragraph?
Yup, the physical size of the aquarium is, in my opinion, a very important consideration in botanical selection. Larger leaves, for example- Artocarpus- look great in medium to larger-sized aquariums. However, in a 5 or 10 gallon (20-40L) tank, the "scale" of these items is, well..."off", in my opinion.
A far better choice in this context would be "Nano" Catappa or Mangrove leaves, which are, for the most part, considerably smaller than Artocarpus leaves.
Now, there are some situations where you might want larger leaves in a small space. Perhaps you're trying to recreate a specific niche- for example, a forest stream, where larger, old-growth trees might be dropping leaves to the forest floor, and this would be an appropriate setting for them.
Or maybe you just like larger leaves!
That being said, the same concept forks for botanicals. If you're working with a very small tank, it just looks kind of weird, IMHO, to add a bunch of larger materials, such as "Ra Cama Pods", which really are "out of scale" for most smaller tanks.
I mean, smaller botanicals just seem to look a bit better in smaller tanks...And larger ones, too! Again, it's really about scale and context.
Smaller botanicals are more impactful in smaller tanks, obviously, and when used in groups or aggregations.
So, perhaps we're making a BIG deal about a tiny subject- the concept of "scale" in utilizing botanicals in an aquarium- yet the impact of using "appropriately sized" botanicals will have a terrific aesthetic impact on your overall aquascape.
In the end, there are no hard and fast aesthetic "rules" when contemplating the use of botanicals in our aquariums. However, the important considerations are to think about the use of botanicals- and everything- in context.
Something to think about.
Stay curious. Stay creative. Stay thoughtful...
And Stay Wet.