We love how more an more hobbyists are giving aquatic botanicals a go! We've seen some awesome tanks and some really great executions of natural-looking aquaecapes, vivariums, and aquatic features.
As hobbyists explore the potential of these cool items, it's human nature that people sometimes...push it a little bit...you know, like not following our instructions about preparation and going slowly...
I spoke to a friend a couple of days back- a pretty experienced, successful aquarist who's kept and bred a lot of fishes in his time. He was remarking about his initial experiences with aquatic botanicals, when we got to the part about preparation, he was like, "Nah...I just toss 'em in the tank..." And of course, I was sort of, well- freaked out. Apparently, that was my friends "M.O." with leaves as well ("I've always just thrown them right in..."). I was surprised that anyone- especially an aquarist of his experience- would be so nonchalant when it came to adding anything to his aquariums. It's just not good practice, IMHO.
Experience notwithstanding, it doesn't make sense to simply toss in things, regardless of who you get them from-right into your aquarium without any form of cleaning or preparation. I have used- or am currently using- every item in our collection in my own aquariums, prepare them conservatively, and I make these recommendations because one of the responsibilities of tropical fish keeping is to see that our animals are given the best possible chances for a healthy, happy existence.
We don't just find something that looks "cool", toss it in a bag, and offer it for sale. Everything we use or recommend is something that we use or do ourselves. It's poor practice at the least, and an open invitation to possible disaster at the worst-to just dump "stuff"-random or otherwise- into your tank without prep. My plea to anyone- experienced or otherwise- who works with aquatic botanicals: Please take the time to prepare them before adding to your aquatic display.
We've touched on this several times in "The Tint", yet it's so important and deserves to be repeated. These are natural items, and although we source them from suppliers we deem to be reliable and quality conscious, offer pollutant and pesticide-free materials, and inspect them visually for quality, as well as test specimens from each batch on our own systems, common sense needs to prevail when you work with them in your aquarium. There are two critical considerations that need to be made when you use these products:
1) Always follow our preparation recommendations (boiling and/or extended soaking) prior to adding botanicals to your aquariums. It's not the most enjoyable thing in the world to boil stuff and then soak it, but it's one of the best ways to a) release some of the organics, dirt, and other impurities that might be bound up in the surfaces of the botanicals, and b) helps to saturate their tissues, softening them and water logging the botanicals so that they sink more readily.
Aquarists always wonder how much of the tannins they might "lose" through the preparation process, particularly in regards to leaves, and the answer truly is that I don't know for sure. I can tell you that most of these items will continue to release tannins over time as long as they are submerged. I suspect that the amount of tannins lost as a result of proper preparation is far less than the potential risk you expose your aquatic animals to when you don't prepare them for use.
Botanicals will gradually break down and impart tannins, humic acids, and other organics to the water which may affect pH; just how pronounced the effect is in your aquarium will depend upon a number of factors, including the starting pH and alkalinity of the water, and the number of botanicals you add to a given volume of water.
And this of course, ties in with the second consideration:
2) Always GO SLOW and add botanicals to your established aquariums gradually. Because you have a stable system, and are adding materials that can impact the water chemistry, and indeed, add to the bioload or affect water quality to some extent, it's really important to gradually add the botanicals to your system. This will give you the opportunity to gauge for yourself the impact on your water parameters that the materials impart, and to allow your fishes, biological filtration, and aesthetics to adjust to the changes. Remember, fishes don't always react well to (rapid) environmental changes. Err on the side of caution and go really slowly. What's the rush, anyways?
One of the things we've touched on before, which bares repeating is that there is a difference between the the tint that you can often expect botanical materials (leaves, wood, seed pods, etc.) to impart to the water and an impact on pH and alkalinity. Just because the water is brown doesn't mean that you have "Orinoco-like" conditions in your tank! In most cases, botanicals will have almost no influence whatsoever on the alkalinity. However, depending on the alkalinity and other environmental factors, they can affect the pH...To what extent is hard to predict. You simply have to add the botanicals and monitor your basic water parameters after you add them to compare them to your results prior to adding the botanicals.
Maybe it's the overly-cautious reefer in me...or just the cautious way I was trained in my formative hobby years by my father, and experienced hobbyist himself, but I think that it's just common sense to follow the directions we prescribe for preparation, and to use a healthy dose of good old-fashioned patience- coupled with common sense- when using these items in your aquatic displays. Test your water regularly.
And yes, even though Tannin is not the first vendor to offer leaves and botanicals for aquatic use, we'd like to be among the first vendors to urge that you apply good principles of aquarium management when deciding to embark on a new adventure with these items. We have a ton of material about the good and bad of playing with botanicals on our site, both in this blog and in our Aquatic Botanical Preparation page. Please make use of these resources!
Why take crazy risks? Why take shortcuts? You wouldn't (shouldn't!) just toss a new fish into your established aquarium, why do it with a seed pod or leaf? There is still a bit of a learning curve for all of us with botanicals, as more and more varieties become more widely available, and the exercise of common sense, patience, coupled with the time-honored practice of sharing information- will help us all create a viable and interesting "subculture" within the aquarium hobby.
Stay patient. Stay cautious. Stay level-headed.
And Stay Wet.