Leaps of faith.

At least a few times a week, I'm asked by fellow hobbyists-those perhaps "uninitiated" to our little world- about why the botanical-style aquarium, with its tinted water, biofilms, and decomposing materials is so appealing; why it's becoming more and more popular all the time.

Since we are asked this so often, it makes sense to discuss it yet again...Perhaps from a "slightly different perspective", as I like to say- so that you can have a sort of "reference" for friends who catch you off-guard with this common question! 

When you think about it, the art and science of botanical-style aquariums tends to get heaped in along with blackwater aquariums (not a bad thing). And they do go hand-in-hand, of course. However, as we've discussed a million times here, you don't have to have tinted water. Use of activated carbon or other chemical filtration media can take care of that "right quickly" as they say!

There are lots of ways to enjoy botanicals in your aquariums, and not all of them involve the vision that we've come to associate with them. Yeah, you can keep things nice and pristine and tidy.

Of course, many of us enjoy the aforementioned decomposition, biofilms, and fauna that goes with it. And the tinted water just goes with the territory. When we consider the "function" of these habitats; the humic substances, tannins, and other compounds which are imparted to the water as a result of the botanicals, the advantages of these types of tanks go beyond even the unusual aesthetics.

We've talked about the characteristics and function of blackwater numerous times here, and how they provide conditions which lead to natural behaviors- including reproduction- in many fishes.

Of course, the aesthetics are a "primary driver" in our love affair with these aquariums for many hobbyists! Taken apart from the function, it becomes a whole different element. "Blackwater," of course, is not just an environment, it's a mood. It's also a way of looking at an aquarium and understanding and accepting the influence that natural botanical materials exert in the overall aquatic environment, just as they do in Nature.

In a hardscape-driven, blackwater-themed, aquatic botanical-influenced aquarium, the interplay between the water and the environment is not just a "bonus"- it's the whole ballgame! As soon as these materials are added to the environment, they begin to soften, break down, and impart tannins and humic acids, as well as a host of  other organic material into the water column, just as they do in Nature.

Imagine, one of the natural world's most alluring and unique aquatic environments in your home aquarium!


As an aquarist, a little bit of faith in the natural process, and a willingness to let go of your preconceptions of exactly what an aquarium should look like- is absolutely necessary.

Even mandatory.

Once you free your mind of  these "prejudices", you will really begin to accept and appreciate the natural beauty of what these systems are all about.

A rich, varied, and aesthetically different experience is easily within your reach. And accepting the influence and conditions created by these natural materials will make your life as an aquarist a bit easier, in my opinion.

How so, you ask?

Well, think about it.

In a blackwater, botanical-style hardscape, you're not spending your time attempting to control or manage every process that occurs in the aquarium. Picture this: You're not constantly pruning, fertilizing, or otherwise "managing" the evolution of the environment in an attempt to preserve it in it's current state.

Rather, other than selecting, placing, and occasionally replacing botanicals as needed to achieve the look and "feel" you want, you're allowing your aquarium to evolve on its own- freeing you to enjoy the process.

Leaps of faith and letting go are not themes we often associate with aquarium keeping, so it's a fundamentally different experience, a mental shift, and a completely different "vibe" when you work with a blackwater, botanical-style system.

Sure, people have played with wood and leaves in aquariums for many years, but I don't think with the mindset that we've seen lately.

And that's huge.

In other words, hobbyists who incorporate botanicals and such into their aquarium nowadays are looking at things more "holistically', embracing the natural processes, such as the breakdown of materials, accumulation of biofilms, and even the occasional spot of algae, as part of the environment to be studied and enjoyed, rather than to be loathed, feared and removed.

We're learning more about the interactions between our fishes and these unique environments, and the opportunities to share this new knowledge are endless! 

And it all starts with a leap of faith.

Stay intruiged. Stay engaged. Stay diligent. Stay curious. Stay confident. Stay faithful...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


Leave a comment