Making the cut: "Editing" and the botanical-style aquarium...

As hobbyists, we love "tweaking", modifying, and changing stuff. Sometimes, we do this on a big-scale (like, tearing down our aquascape and starting over). Other times, it's about making smaller, incremental changes to our tanks.

Incremental steps are important in just about any aquarium; however, they're almost a given with the botanical-style aquariums we love and work with. Like any aquarium, it's a given that we won't reach the "final" version (is there such a thing, lol?) of our botanical-style aquarium for some time...if ever.

I can't tell you how many times Ive started out with one idea, and ended up with something quite different after a relatively brief period of time.

To me, it's best accomplished gradually..It's a constant "evolution" of sorts. A series of slow, steady adjustments. A process which keeps us in control of the situation, and to a certain extent, mimics what occurs in nature, right?

Yeah. Think about it for just a second.

In nature, things don't ever really reach an "end"- they just keep changing...It may occur over eons, but it happens. Changes in climate, water flow, erosion; an influx of materials into the aquatic environment all play a role in this. 

When we set out and add a bunch of leaves and botanicals to our aquarium, doesn't this sort of parallel what happens in nature to a certain degree?

It sure does! 

I mean, one could draw parallels between pretty much everything that we do with our aquaria and what happens in nature; however, I think that the botanical-style aquarium lends itself to replicating some aspects of nature better than many other types of systems we play with as fish geeks! I mean, the very process of adding and removing botanical materials to our aquariums is a near perfect replication of what happens in these environments in nature!

Occasionally, you'll end up doing "addition by subtraction" in a botanical-style blackwater aquarium! Like, making a serious "edit" to move forward.

This happens to me all the time.

I'll start out with lofty plans, select a bunch of botanicals and wood and such, and set up a nice 'scape. I'll run it in for a few weeks and realize that, for whatever reason, it wasn't "hitting" on the points that I wanted...So I'd start removing stuff that I felt pulled the tank away from the original vision I had for it. 

A great example of this was the nano aquarium I set up in my office earlier in the year.. I had a vision for this aquarium when I started- to be the most "leaf-centric" version of an Amazonian igarape habitat I've ever done.

Was envisioning shallow water, tangled twigs a well-distributed  layer of small Texas Live Oak Leaves, and a scattering of small botanicals. I'd incorporate some wood to evoke the feeling of a "root ball" that was suddenly exposed to the  inundation of water. And just one species of fish- the cute little Paracheirodon simulans ("Green Neon Tetra"). I even threw in a cutting of "Cat Palm" that I had rooted in water for several months for that extra touch...

Simple, easy-to-execute, and a fairly good representation of the habitat I was interested in.



Of course, it was a good "start"...It even received a lot of encouragement and praise from our Instagram and Facebook followers (not that those things are the ultimate "metric" of "good", but...). It was a tiny tank, but I found a lot of pleasure in it.

For a while, anyways.

Something about it just wasn't "right" about it to me.

You know that feeling, right?

I had to do some hard thinking about this. I looked at my pictures of the wild habitat by Mike Tuccinardi, David Sobry, and others, and thought about the "dream" tank I was thinking about for so long: Just a layer of leaves and a small scattering of twigs.

Nothing else.

And of course, you know what I did next, right?

Out came the wood. Back to a vase of water went the little palm. Out went the small Cariniana Pods and such.

So what I had was the tank I had yearned for all these years: Shallow, tinted water, a very thin layer of sand, and a cover of leaves and just a few small oak twigs.

Nothing else.  

Now, I admit that I hated the efficient, but butt-ugly Eheim surface film extractor thingy on the right side, but it did work great. I thought about pulling it in favor of just a well-placed airstone for surface agitation/film removal. Or even no ayirstone. The auto top off sensor on the left, near the filter inflow/outflow pipes was a bit annoying, but kind of unavoidable (And it makes life easier, too!). That shallow tank with it's wide open top evaporated a significant amount of water daily.

Now, as you know by now, I absolutely hate visible hardware in a scape, so next time I do this on a large scale, I'll use a reef-ready tank with integrated overflows and a sump! 

So, yeah. Just leaves and a handful of twigs. And really tinted water. That's a "future edit!"

I'm SOOO doing that tank. I can imagine a school of like 200 Neons or Cardinals over nothing but leaf litter in a larger aquarium. People will be like, "Why?" 

And then I'll be able to explain. To share the details on the wild habitat which inspired it. I could never do that with a "high concept" diorama scape, which has in much in common with a natural aquatic habitat as do cut flowers in a vase, IMHO.

Shit, I'm getting nasty again. Time to wrap this up.

I realized that this was not everyone's aesthetic "dream tank"; definitely not the aquascaping world's vision of "ground-breaking" work- but it was exactly what I envisioned. Minimalistic on initial consideration and observation, but when you really take the time to examine it, this "no-scape" is remarkably dynamic and engrossing. And functionally amazing. During my months-long experiment, I ran this tank with NO EXTERNAL FOOD INPUTS and the fish were as fat an happy as they day they were added... Yeah, leaf litter, biofilm and microorganisms do wonders, huh?

It is something that proved to be oddly compelling to me. I can imagine it on a larger scale...I think it could be mind-blowing if executed well.

This tank was a great example of a good edit... A perfect example of "addition by subtraction", if you ask me. The 'scape ended up being exactly what I wanted- by taking stuff out!

So...The simple message here?

"Edits" are okay. Don't be afraid to "edit" from time to time. It's part of the evolution of your aquarium- even if it means that you're taking out a lot of what might have been "safe" and more openly accepted by others. Even if it means making what seems like a radical change to get to where you want to go.

Yes, less can be more. Really.

"Editing" is important.

Stay creative. Stay focused. Stay bold. Stay fascinated. Stay diligent. Stay relentless...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


Leave a comment