I dare you.

I know you're out there. 

Maybe you're an experienced hobbyist. Perhaps you're brand new- just starting out. You're fascinated by the botanical-style aquarium. You're eager to give it a shot.

I have a dare for you...

However, let me digress for a few minutes.

We're now 5 years in as Tannin Aquatics; 5 years since we've thrown our hat into the ring, doing our small part to elevate the idea of blackwater, botanical-style aquariums and a more natural approach to running them.

To date, we've shipped around 14,000 or so orders worldwide to thousands of customers. We've seen a huge and accelerating interest in the idea of botanical-style aquariums, with hobbyists from multiple aquatic disciplines jumping in and playing with botanicals in a variety of systems. Lot's of fascinating aquariums and other aquatic displays have been featured. Here at Tannin alone, we've created hundreds of blog posts and podcasts on virtually every aspect-good, bad, and ugly- of botanical-style aquariums.

Technique has been developed, refined, and in some instances- perfected. The art and science has evolved, with "best practices" for botanical-style approaches being shared widely in the hobby, both here and elsewhere, leading to many remarkable successes.

However, there are still a few people out there for whom this stuff doesn't seem to work. The approach is perhaps elusive to them. The idea of utilizing botanicals in the aquarium to create a specialized aquatic environment doesn't quite resonate. Or, if it does, the "details"- the "rules" imposed by Nature about how this stuff works, simply don't seem to hit home.

Yeah, it happened again recently.

That thing which I most feared in the early days of Tannin..Soemthing I thought that 5 years, hundreds of articles, and thousands of success stories would have helped avoid: Someone added a bunch of botanicals to their established tank all at once, and their fishes died. A tragedy. Interestingly, this is exactly the 4th such incident that I have been made aware of since we've been in operation.  

A very tiny number, considering- but each tragedy is painful for me to hear.

And, of course, it's really disappointing, because it was one of the most avoidable, completely unnecessary tragedies I've heard of with botanicals...especially at this late date.

And sadly, the customer who reported this tragedy didn't bring it to my attention, or even ask questions. Her first course of action after the avoidable tragedy was to simply request a refund from PayPal, with the generic descriptor that "products were not as described."  And, in a micro rant describing how her fishes died and the botanicals "turned to mush"- she confidently stated that, "No one should use these things in their aquariums.."

Okay, now I understand that she was upset because she nuked her tank. All of her fishes died. And I don't care about the money aspect.

I suppose she got part of it right when she made her statement. Yet, I think I need to expand upon her words a bit to really drive the point home:

No one should use these things in their aquariums if they don't make the effort to understand what they're getting into here.

And lest you be concerned that she's out her money- she isn't. That was never even an issue.

Secret: Even though we don't offer a "guarantee" that we'll refund your money if you kill your fishes- because we can't possibly guarantee perfect outcomes for everyone-we're pretty good at taking care of you, our customers- and we would refund your purchase if you brought this to our attention and felt it was deserved.  Really, you're not "fighting back at The Man" when you request a refund from PayPal. All PayPal does in this instance is send us an email saying, essentially, "...customer requests a refund. Here's the (generic) reason. Do you want to issue a refund or dispute it?" 

And we just refund the money, of course. Because at the end of the day, it's not just about the money.

While we might disagree with the reasoning, we certainly wouldn't not refund if someone asked. I mean, she was upset. No disputing THAT.

Yeah, her fishes died.

That sucks. And guess what, I take some of the blame. It's partially my fault. 

It is.

Because I need to do an even better job of describing the many aspects of how to use botanicals; about the potential pitfalls, the caveats, the nuances, and...

Well, wait a second...

I said "partially"- because it's a two-way street.

Okay, there are aspects of this tragedy which one could attribute to our inability to point out every possible consideration when using botanicals in aquariums- sure- that's on us.

However, we don't just sell seed pods and leaves in a vacuum, do we? And someone who embarks on this botanical-style aquarium journey is not exactly a "victim", right? We provide the information, tools, and inspiration to move forward as a well-informed, confident hobbyist. How can you be surprised that your botanicals would "turn to mush" at some point? Because you might have missed that point.

Decomposition is a fundamental part of the botanical-style aquarium.

And we tell you- and have told you repeatedly over the years NOT to play with botanicals if you don't have the necessary understanding of the processes and expectations.

I mean, we DO have hundreds of articles and podcasts right here, including some memorable titles, like "All in all, it's best NOT to kill your fishes"  or (from back in 2015) "Whoa! Slow down there! There's no rush."  or "Celebrating patience. Embracing the Evolution. Taking the Time" , "Cooking with botanicals: The art of botanical preparation- Part 236"  (yeah, we talk about it so often that we mock ourselves!)- micro rants, pleads, essays, and admonitions to slow down. To evaluate as you go. To study. To educate yourself on the nitrogen cycle, aquarium ecology, and good old common sense.

We talk about this stuff ad naseum here- and we'll keep doing it-because it's that important.

Yeah, we will. It's our responsibility, and our obligation to the hobby- and to our fishes. We'll try to do an even more complete job of pushing this information out to the hobby. We have to do better.

And we all have to understand:

Although it's extremely rare, tragedies are going to happen. They happen when we as hobbyists  don't do our job to educate ourselves more thoroughly before jumping in.  Nature offers no guarantees. Neither can we. Each of the four cases which we were made aware of, the tragedy could have been avoided by embracing a more studious, measured, patient mindset.

We've even talked about THAT stuff forever.

Because it's important. Fundamental. Essential.

So, to the customer who lost all of your fishes after adding botanicals to your tank, I wish you the best. I feel for your pain. It sucks. I'm truly sorry you had such a bad experience. I encourage you to move forward.

And... I dare you.


Yeah, I dare you to embrace a new mindset.

A new way of thinking.

I dare you to take some initiative to do more than look at the pretty pictures online and study our infographic botanical prep card that we ship with your order. To learn about the nitrogen cycle, bacteria, basic water chemistry, and the impact of bioload on established aquariums.  To read about why terrestrial materials decompose in water, and what happens when they do. To take some personal responsibility to educate yourself about what the whole reasoning is for playing with botanicals. 

Yeah, you have a role here, too. Don't shy away from it. You see, Nature has some "rules" that we need to understand if we play Her game. She'll kick our asses if we don't- without apologies or consideration about how we feel. She's been doing this stuff for eons. She's under no obligation to make things easy or simple for us to understand.

It's the price we pay for playing in Nature's arena.

I dare you to grasp that. To look before you leap.

I dare you to understand that botanical-style aquariums are not just a "style of aquascaping", and that botanicals are not just decorative "set pieces" for your aquarium. I implore you to learn about the ecological implications of botanicals on the aquarium to which they are added. To understand what we mean when we urge you to go slowly, and to deploy massive amounts of patience.

I dare you to make the effort to understand this stuff. Not to just give it "lip service" or be entertained by our energy or catchy titles or splashy images and videos. Dive deeper. 

You'll not only spare yourself from future tragedies- you'll help others do the same.

Because, at the end of the day, it's all about learning about and enjoying the animals that we love. It's about enjoying the wonders of Nature in our own homes. It's about sharing what we've learned, and contributing to the ever-growing body of knowledge about the botanical-style aquarium.

Embrace this. And grow.

I dare you.

I'm sorry for your loss.

Stay brave. Stay careful. Stay alert. Stay studious. Stay patient...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 





Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


5 Responses

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman

July 31, 2020

HI Karen,

This one was much less of a “product sell” than an IDEA sell. We do our best to support the hobby and our community, and as you know, sometimes it involves a gentle ass kicking. You’ll also notice that we tend to stay out of areas we don’t know anything about. Native North American fishes are one of those, so I’d recommend that you check out the North American Native Fishes Association (http://www.nanfa.org). They have the experts, community, and resources that you might need to get the information you need. Thanks for stopping by!



July 30, 2020

Was their a product sell in there? I couldnt tell. I like your brand. Educational? I can I get a free sample and references, please? Even you really want to help, I am trying to raise a bass that I accidently caught. I dont know nearly enough about bass…I’m told it’s easy, they’re jumper. It is very clearly predatory and a good eater. He seems to like having a cave space, and hes afraid of my minnows bc they’re big and frantic and scary. Anyway, like/subscribe/follow/#. I dig. -karen :)


July 30, 2020

Was their a product sell in there? I couldnt tell. I like your brand. Educational? I can I get a free sample and references, please? Even you really want to help, I am trying to raise a bass that I accidently caught. I dont know nearly enough about bass…I’m told it’s easy, they’re jumper. It is very clearly predatory and a good eater. He seems to like having a cave space, and hes afraid of my minnows bc they’re big and frantic and scary. Anyway, like/subscribe/follow/#. I dig. -karen :)

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman

July 29, 2020

It’s certainly a fine line that we walk between too much/too fast and not fast enough, etc… We have an obligation- which I feel we’re doing an okay job of meeting- to explain the good and bad. However, there is a certain degree of personal responsibility which everyone in the hobby needs to embrace. As far as which materials to use for aquairums, there are tannins present in virtually all woods and leaves and such, so it would be tough to generalize.

The reality is that we need to experiment carefully and realize that some wood or leaves or pods might have other ichthyotoxic compounds in addition to the tannins, which we’re not aware oof. I guess the best advice would be to just proceed with caution. I don’t necessarily think that any wood that’s used for cooking food would be categorically safe for those reasons…It’s all a big experiment still! Enjoy the process!


July 28, 2020

Nicely put. In other words – suppose you went to the grocery store and bought a box of bagged tea or bag of prunes. It is not the grocery stores fault you ate the whole bag of prunes and wrecked your gi. Then tried to sooth your stomach drinking a whole box of tea and had a heart attack from caffine overdose.

On another note. I’ve been experimenting with tannins. Currently I suspect you can use any wood and leaf from trees that would be safe for cooking food. What are your thoughts?

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