As names go, I'll admit that I occasionally, for just a few seconds, miss those cutesy names we came up with for the botanicals we offer. There was something funny about the pod we now know as the "Dregea Pod." It's unusual shape reminded me of a seashell, or "concha" in Portuguese, hence the name.
Charming. And kind of accurate, because that's what the thing looks like!
That being said, when we did the "great renaming" of 2018, it was time to call this botanical what it was...Dregea. That's the genus name of our little friend, Dregea volublilis.(Pronounced "DRAY-gee-uh"), it's named after the German collector, JF Drege, and the species name, volubulis, means "twining." This is perfectly appropriate, as the plant it comes from is also known by the inglorious common name of "Sneezing Silk" in some parts of its range (Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Kashmir, Laos, Maloaysia, Nepal, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam).
Known as "Kodippaalai" in the Tamil language, (from the region in India where the bulk of ours come from, Tamil Nadu), it's an interesting and useful botanical, to say the least. It hails from the family Asclepiadaceae, a pretty large, well-represented one! And like many of the botanicals we offer, it's beauty is more than just external!
(The "Sneezing Silk" plant, in all of its glory. Image by Dinesh Valke, used under CC BY-SA 2.0)
Now, like most of the botanicals we play with in the aquarium hobby, we use only part of the plant from which it comes. Specifically, the fruit follicle (characterized in Botany as "a dry fruit which splits down one side only"). And of course, being the diligent scientists they are, botanists would describe the follicles as "narrowly ovoid, longitudinally wrinkled, or irregularly ribbed."
The interior is smooth and shiny.
We describe them as "looking like a little shell", but who are we in the scientific community, right? Anyways, back the the details...
There are actually a fair number of human uses for Dregea. The young shoots are eaten, and both the leaves, stems, and roots are used medicinally. According to my research, in its native range, the plant is used to treat medical conditions as widely varying as Asthma, sore throat, and Eczema. It's even utilized as an antidote for poison in some places! The stems also yield a fiber- part of a clue to the English meaning of its species name, "twining."
Interestingly, the leaves themselves are utilized as a human food in some parts of its natural range, and the plant is actually cultivated for use as a vegetable.
(The leaves of Dregea volubilis)
So, the fruit, and by extension, the fruit follicle-which we are interested in- is known to contain many different secondary metabolites (aka "Anthocyanidins"- Delphinidin, Petunidin), Flavonoids (Rutin, Myricetin, Quercetin, Luteolin, Apigenin, Orientin, and at least one unidentified flavonoid), and Phenolic compounds. Sounds vaguely familiar, right? I'm recalling from Catappa...
And further phytochemical evaluation of the Dregea fruit revealed the presence of alkaloids, Terpenoids, Steroids, Coumarins, Tannins, Proteins, Phenolic compounds, as well as carbohydrates, glycosides, starch, phytosterol, lipids, amino acids, and lignins.
All stuff we've heard of before in the botanical world, right?
Now, this is where we depart from the dryly scientific world for just a bit. Like many natural materials that have been used in the aquarium (like leaves), it would be easy for us to infer that some of the beneficial compounds contained in the fruit and its follicle (we'll call it a "pod" from here on out) can easily be imparted directly into the water, or assimilated easily by animals (mainly our beloved ornamental shrimp) which actually feed on the pod.
This is the kind of marketing hyperbole that I feel is rife in the shrimp "food" world, with all sorts of stuff christened as a "food" for shrimp, and the human-specific health benefits attributed to the botanical are somehow implied to be perfect for shrimp. I mean, to a certain extent, I suppose it is possible that some of the alleged benefits can "translate" into the physiology of shrimp, but man- who's actually tested them specifically for this?
Now, that being said, myself and others who have played with this botanical in our aquariums have observed that it's one that shrimp seem to adore. In fact, they really, really like grazing on and consuming these guys! I'd rather use that observation as "marketing endorsement" of sorts for this botanical. Now, they seem to love the stuff...and that's made them surprisingly popular for our shrimp keeping customers.
In fact, it was recently featured by our good friend, Rachel O'Leary, in her cool video on shrimp aquariums with botanicals...and many of you have noticed, too. It's been a very popular seller in our collection for sure!
And this makes sense, because as a "grazing surface", and even as a supplemental food for shrimp, it is quite useful. They tend to graze on biofilms which accumulate on the exterior, which makes sense, because the aforementioned "ribbed" exterior surface does a great job "recruiting" these biofilms after the pod has been submerged for a while. And the smooth interior tends to soften after preparation and submersion, offering fishes an (apparently) easily-consumed, highly palatable food source.
As an "environmental enrichment" vehicle, the Dregea Pod, IMHO, is best appreciated as a means to impart some of its more soluble compounds (the aforementioned tannins and flavonoids) into the water, and to a greater extent, to provide a physical structure in a botanical-style aquarium.
Now, again- in all good conscience, I won't be able to make any definitive statements that using this pod imparts a lot of "____________" into your tank. You simply won't see darkly-tinted water as a result of using these pods in your tank. Rather, I think that as the botanical breaks down, some of these materials will slowly diffuse in tiny quantities into the water column. It's a "supporting cast member" in a botanical-style aquarium- from a strictly "utilitarian" standpoint.
And yeah, once again...Shrimp love 'em!
The "functional aesthetic" component is where the Dregea Pod really shines, IMHO. It looks pretty cool in a mixed bed of leaf litter and other botanicals, taking on a sort of "generic-tropical" appearance in the mix. And of course, its unique shape will make it a cool little hiding place for fry or tiny fishes, a foraging area, or who knows- perhaps even a little "spawning cave" for some!
Being a relatively lightweight botanical, it's easy to prepare, with a "typical" prep technique, consisting of boiling them for 40-45 minutes to thoroughly saturate and sink them. They're really lightweight, but surprisingly long-lasting. That is, unless your shrimp tear 'em up!
Until next time...We hope you enjoyed this "deeper dive" into the popular, yet always-interesting "Dregea Pod!"
Stay intrigued. Stay curious. Stay bold. Stay excited...
And Stay Wet.