Not bad. Just different.

One of the fundamental "mental shifts" that we ask every "recruit" to the blackwater, botanical-style aquarium world to make is to understand that the natural world is not the neat, orderly thing that we in the hobby have made it out to be for so many years.

Rather, the natural world appears to be an almost random, somewhat chaotic, even, dare we say messy place with random arrays of materials distributed among dark, tinted water (in the blackwater habitats, of course!).

Not bad. Just different.

Different than what we've become accustomed to in the aquarium world. Our vision will take some getting used to before you can accept it...

The difference is something that I think we as aquarists seem to have a difficult time dealing with, to be honest. I think I get it...I mean, for a lot of us, it's awful hard to think about a "controlled" and aesthetically pleasing display filled with decomposing leaves and other botanical materials. And when biofilms and fungal growths appear on these leaves and botanicals, and even driftwood, we collectively sigh.

However, I think that a little "tough love" is in order here. 

We need to be honest with ourselves...

If you want to make that mental leap to a different kind of functional aquarium aesthetic, accepting the fact that these things are not only a normal part of the blackwater/botanical-style system- they are essential to it's function.

Sure, you can create a botanical-style system with long-duration materials like larger seed pods, etc., run activated carbon I the water to remove tint, and meticulously scrub every botanical as soon as the biofilms and fungi appear. You can remove these pieces once they start breaking down, and replace them with brand new ones.

And yeah, you'll achieve a beautiful, unique-looking, meticulously clean aquascape. And there's nothing wrong with that. However, I think that you can't fool your self: That version of a botanical style aquarium, gorgeous though it is- is functionally not a true representation of this type of habitat. In fact, I'd dare say that it is as closely related to the wild habitat as a garden is to a forest.

Not bad...just different.

Or, you can let your preconceptions of what you think an aquarium should look like go, and let nature do what she does best...

Nature will do in your aquarium what she's done in the wild for eons: Allow bacterial biofilms and fungi to colonize unprotected surfaces, and gradually break them down. The tannins and humic substances present in these materials will be imparted into the water, coloring it golden brown.

Not bad...just different.

Remember, there are no "rules" in this game, except those which Nature has created, and will continue to execute on, if allowed to do so.

Make the mental shift; be flexible like a ripple in the water...


Be bold, and allow yourself to accept a different vibe, a different aesthetic...and a more realistically functioning aquarium habitat.

It'll take some adjustment; some getting used to. Yet, once you make that adjustment- if it resonates in you-the entire way you look at aquariums- and nature- will change forever.

Stay open-minded. Stay inspired. Stay creative. Stay curious. Stay resolute...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 


Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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