“In a most unconventional way...”

I have to admit, I am sort of an advocate for “weird” stuff.

I mean, I really love the idea of tinted, often turbid water, decomposing leaves, biofilms, and other sorts of “features” that would pretty much cause most serious aquarists to lose their minds rather quickly!

I’ve tried over the years to figure out where this obsession came from. I mean, my early aquarium days were most “conventional”: After graduating from tourquiose gravel, plastic plants, and ceramic ornaments, I started using more natural materials- wood, love plants, “Number three aquarium gravel”- stuff like that. 

In my teen years, in addition to girls, I discovered killifish... and thought that keeping them in permanent setups, consisting mainly of overgrown “jungles” of Rotala and other plants was more interesting to me than bare plastic shoeboxes and such that were the more “conventional/practical” approach to breeding and breeding them.  It worked for livebearers...no reason it couldn't work with killies, right?

Peat moss, particularly the long fiber kind, really interested me. It’s impact on the color of the water, the behavior of the fishes, and their overall health immediately piqued my interest! It made my tanks look very similar to the habitats I had seen these fishes come from in Nature... “NATURAL!”

And, as an avid reader, this was about the time I discovered blackwater aquariums. 

Something natural, unique, and beneficial for many fishes. An obvious attraction for an aquarium...and executed in a most unconventional way.

I haven't really looked back since.

Oh sure, I took a multi-decade “detour” through the world of reef aquariums and coral propagation. In reality, despite the hyper-clear water and insanely colored animals, it simply was a different form of expression- a different “palette” to create more natural aquariums. My reef tanks were modeled more after locales I'd seen while diving or surfing than a more contrived, "collector-centric" coral approach that was the prevailing "style" for years. It all made sense, though...again- something about the road less travelled..

I can look at an image of an aquatic habitat and try to recreate aspects of it in an aquarium. Not a stylized version, mind you. I can't do that well. Rather, an unfiltered interpretation of it.

A version for the aquarium.  Yeah, that's me!

Okay, enough of my weird hobby history...

Although I had to think back on this recently, because of some of the interviews I’ve done lately for our “Tint” podcast (you HAVE listened, right?), with guys like Cory Hopkins, George Farmer, and Tai Strietman. Hearing their  thoughts on some aspects of recreating natural habitats and just aquascaping in general made me reflect.

In particular, both George and Cory were talking about the "trend" in aquascaping towards “details” like smaller twigs, roots, pebbles, etc; and how this has impacted the aquascaping world in general...


This stirred up something in the back of my mind.

I found this particularly interesting because I’ve been a big fan of such “details” for many years, myself. Of course, not just from a purely aesthetic or artistic standpoint, but from the way they help create aquatic habitats that fishes interact with more naturally. They look cool and have an important role in the lives of the fishes...

That thing that I like to call “functional aesthetics...”

And things like roots and tangled branches  are a "detail" that we need to think more about.

Roots, specifically.

Yeah, there is something incredibly compelling about the way terrestrial trees and shrubs interact with the aquatic environment. Not only do they help "secure the soils" from falling away, they foster epiphytic algae, fungal growth, and biofilms, which supplement the foods of the resident fishes. And of course, they provide a physical habitat for fishes to forage, seek shelter, and reproduce among. In short, these roots create a unique "microhabitat" which harbor a diversity of life.

And they look pretty aesthetically cool, too!

So yeah- this makes them an irresistible subject for a natural-looking- and functioning- aquascape!. And relatively easy to execute, too!

With a variety of interesting natural materials readily available to the hobbyist, it's easier than ever to recreate these habitats in as detailed a version as you care to do. And, rather than a purely "artistic" interpretation like you see in many of the detailed "diorama" scapes that are so popular right now, I'm suggesting utilizing roots and twigs and such to create a more functionally realistic habitat for your fishes.

Facilitating these processes- allowing the materials to accumulate naturally and break down "in situ" is a key component of replicating and supporting these microhabitats in our aquariums. Fostering natural processes of accumulation and decomposition of natural materials by sequestering them is just one way you can utilize root simulations in your aquarium.

The typical aquarium hardscape- artistic and beautiful as it might be, generally replicates the most superficial aesthetic aspects of such habitats, and tends to overlook their function- and the reasons why such habitats form.

The function- the "why" if you will...can be just as interesting to contemplate, right?

Roots find their way into aquatic systems because..well- the aquatic system usually finds THEM! Areas of grasslands or varzea/igapo forest become flooded during seasonal inundations, and suddenly, the terrestrial habitat is transformed into a rich, productive- and unique-looking aquatic habitat, brimming with life.

Recreating functional and aesthetic aspects of this type of aquatic habitat is the very essence of what we at Tannin hope to help you accomplish.  The complexity and additional "microhabitats" they create are compelling and interesting. Applying what most aquascapers these days would call "details" to the overall aquascape; making them the focus- is an entirely different approach- especially when we think towards the functional aspects over everything else.

Even the most simple application of such an idea can yield a fundamentally different type of aquarium, with in appearance and function. Fishes will behave differently, foraging and sheltering among the roots or tangled branches. They will utilize these structures as a place to forage and perhaps even reproduce.

There are many, many creative nuances that we can apply to the recreation of these unique habitats of course. I've seen numerous hobbyists create some truly fascinating aquariums by utilizing tangles of fine branches and roots as the "main event." Not only is it an aesthetically fascinating habitat, it's truly a functional one, at that!

Of course, there is a lot of interesting stuff you can do, aquascaping-wise, by utilizing a complex of fine branches. Fishes like Angels, Discus, Uaru, and others which come from environments which favor their "vertically compressed" morphology will find a natural home in a tank set up in such a manner.

So, I could go on and on about this stuff; however, I think you're sensing a pattern here, right? It's important for us as aquarists to not only enjoy the creative process of thinking about and creating our natural aquariums- it's vital, IMHO, for us to contemplate how and why some of the structures found in Nature came into being.

Sure, stuff like this has been done before. You can no doubt show me many examples of aquaecapes does with root tangles, terrestrial/aquatic branch aggregations, and "details." Of course. However, I think that when we consider creating such a tank with these types of features in the context of our botanical world, it's a bit different.

It's essentially aquascaping, of course. Yet, done with a different thought. A different purpose. An aquarium, nonetheless, yet executed in...a most unconventional way.

Keep trying new stuff. Get out of your comfort zone. Push out the boundaries...look at your work from a different perspective. Draw as much inspiration from the work of  Nature as is possible. If this kind of stuff calls to you..compells you..moves you in some way- please enjoy this...and share it with the world.

Stay unique. Stay bold. Stay curious. Stay in spired. Stay educated. Stay creative...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 



Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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