From the trees...

In our tinted, botanical-influenced world, it's little surprise that we talk so much about leaves and other botanical materials being added to our aquariums to simulate the materials which accumulate in various natural aquatic habitats.

I mean, when you embark on a botanical-style blackwater aquarium, you have a sense of why exactly the water in the natural habitats you're trying to replicate is tinted...From soils, leaves, wood, and, most profoundly, from botanical materials which fall from...the trees.

Yes, stuff from trees falls into the waters, and is swept by currents downstream, where it influcenss the aquatic ecology. Or, materials from trees fall to the dry forest floor, where they become part of the aquatic environment when the rainy season overflows surrounding streams and inundates what was once a rich, terrestrial habitat.

The understanding and embracing of this information has influenced not only our understanding of the ecology of such systems and their implications for aquarium husbandry, it's provided us with an aesthetic model, for those who wish to replicate their appearance as well. It's a profound and important part of what we do.

Think about it. We don't simply toss leaves, seed pods, etc. into our tanks just to tint the water. We have learned that these materials provide many other "functional benefits", such as fostering biofilms, fungi, crustacean growth, fish hiding  and spawning sites, etc.

The one "criticism" I've heard from the occasional (and I mean, occasional) detractor of our practice is that the tank take on a sort of "sloppy" look....or they all look like a collection of leaves and bits of "stuff" accumulating on the bottom. To which we appropriately respond, "Exactly. That's what the natural habitat we are attempting to emulate looks like."


Now, our accepting and embracing of this seemingly disordered, "wabi-sabi"-style aquatic aesthetic is not an excuse to create "sloppiness." Rather, it's an understanding of the aquatic habitat, it's relationship with the terrestrial ecology, and the ephemeral nature of these materials as they inerrant with water. 

And of course, as we've shown repeatedly over the past couple of years, there are numerous examples of how talented aquascapers have interpreted this aesthetic to create amazing-looking tanks that are every bit as alluring and engrossing as any "traditional" planted aquarium. 

Thinking about how stuff accumulates on the rain forest floor or falls directly into the water from trees is a key component to grasping this concept and aesthetic. Now, it's truly not "rocket science" to think about stuff falling from the trees, but when you contemplate the idea, you begin to think about the "randomness" of the process. Botanical materials like leaves, seed pods and the like fall off trees seasonally, or as a result of wind and weather events, so there is no specific "pattern" of accumulation, except, perhaps that more materials tend to fall off trees during weather events.

Mixing of various materials as a result of being blown around or moved about by current is a simple fact that is inescapable. Although it's been documented that some leaf litter banks have been in place for decades, they are not considered "permanent" features by ecologists. They are subject to the whims of nature- be it from rain, current, or wind, and may vary from season to season, year to year. This is both the charm and magic of these habitats. They are ever- changing, ever-evolving.

And as aquarists, we've made the "mental leap" and have adjusted to the fact that the aesthetics of blackwater, botanical-style aquariums are not permanent", and that this same "evolution" happens in the confines of our tanks. Leaves decompose, botanicals soften and accumulate biofilms and fungal growth, and a small patina of algae may accumulate on our wood. Not to everyone's liking, of course- but understanding this is a key to unlocking many secrets...

It's a sort of recognition that nature "does what it does", and that there is an elegance to this process that we have learned to love, rather than loathe. We understand that this is the real beauty of the natural world.

We've learned that, in order to replicate nature, we need to embrace nature.

And the result has been some real magic so far. Work, like the aquarium above by world-class aquascaper Cory Hopkins, who has absolutely made this "mental shift", is as inspiring as it is beautiful...and pushes the "state of the art" in real natural aquarium design and function to a whole different level!

We're looking forward to seeing a continued progression of the body of work in our blackwater, botanical niche. New approaches, ideas, materials, and knowledge continue to "percolate", evolve, and grow as more and more hobbyists study, scheme and replicate the natural habitats that we have come to love, in their own aquariums.

And it starts with materials which fall...from the trees.

Stay curious. Stay adventurous. Stay open-minded. Stay creative. Stay passionate...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 


Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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