"Insider information" on leaves

One of the questions that we DON"T get a lot, but something that I felt I should touch on here in "The Tint" is the condition of the leaves you work with and how this affects what you're doing with them.

I notice, from time to time, that some leaves are just a bit less "pristine" than others; you know, maybe curled up, drier, a bit ragged around the edges. And I wonder if you, the customers, are concerned that you're not receiving a leg that will do what it's expected to do. (Exactly what is a leaf "expected" to do in an aquarium, anyways?)

I figured I'd let you know that even if a leaf looks a bit "battle-scarred" or weathered, as long as the bulk of the tissue is still intact, you'll derive all of the expected benefits from them. While we make every effort to select the most pristine-appearing leaves for our customers, sometimes, the selection just look less "pristine" than others, and this never seems to impact their "performance", in our experience. And once submerged, even the driest, gnarliest leaves look pretty cool, in our opinion!

Some leaves, like Catappa, come in fairly obvious "grades", because of their color, structure, and quality. Some varieties, like our leaves from Borneo, are very intact, pristine, almost "plastic-like" in  feel, and super colorful. Others, like our Indian origin leaves, are a bit more monochromatic, softer, more papery-like in texture and feel, and tend to be a bit more "ripped." And typically, the Indian leaves are a bit smaller in size than the ones from other regions.

Now, one of the things we've noticed is that different Catappa leaves from different regions of the world will have slightly different "performance" characteristics, too! We've found that the Indian-origin leaves tend to break down much more thoroughly and quickly than the Borneo and Thai-origin leaves we offer. They impart a slightly more "brown" tint, a little bit more quickly than our other Catappa leaves, which seem to impart a deeper brownish-red color to the water, and tend to last a bit longer in many instances.

Guava leaves, on the other hand, tend to "curl up" a bit during storage, and may not look as "sexy" when you first get them, but upon immersion, seem to "open up" more and take on the more exotic appearance we all know and love! And they can last a very long time, imparting a light golden tint to the water.

Loquat leaves tend to run the gamut from slightly dry and super colorful, to dark brown and super "crispy." We tend to ship them when they are less "dry and crumbly", yet this is often a seasonal thing. We're getting pretty good at storing and handling them now, so you're getting more and more intact, somewhat "pliable" Loquat leaves now days!

Jackfruit are interesting, because they look fairly nondescript and often weathered, yet intact when they are dry. Sometimes, they have a slight dusting of mold on them, which we recommend rinsing off and wiping away with a paper towel or toothbrush. Yeah, leaves require a bit of work! Honestly, we're not aware of any issues whatsoever with some of the mold from the leaves getting into your aquariums water; nonetheless, it's good practice to prep leaves before use.

Magnolia are amazing leaves, with a somewhat pliable feel and a "waxy" appearance. They often will release some of the remaining moisture they contain in their tissues while in the bags for transit, and may also arrive with a bit of mold on their surfaces. Again, these are easily removed by wiping, and a good overnight soak will also help.

I know we've talked about prep over and over and over, and the "steep, soak, or boil" dilemma that the botanical aquarium enthusiast has to deal with. My latest practice with almost all leaves now is a rinse and overnight soak in freshwater before using them. S0 many of you just toss the leaves right in after a rinse; it's rally your call. The boiling and steeping we recommend are THE most conservative approaches to preparing leaves for use, and we will likely continue to recommend this approach for some time.

Honestly, it's our experience and opinion that you will not lose significant tannins from the leaves with a steep or brief boil, or even an overnight soak, but it all comes down to what's most comfortable for you!

There is a lot of opinion out there on the best way to utilize leaves i the aquarium, and the real adventure with them is just beginning, as we go beyond just making tinted water with leaves, and move on towards creating more realistic, aesthetically beautiful, and highly functional leaf litter displays.

Stay engaged. Stay curious. Stay creative.

And Stay Wet!


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


Leave a comment