Recipes for distinction...Looking past the tint.

One of the interesting things I've noticed as we push out further and further in the botanical aquarium world is that hobbyists are looking at all sorts of wild aquatic habitats where leaves and botanical materials are found for inspiration- not just "the usual suspects" of blackwater streams, flooded forests, and such.

When you look, for example, at locales where many of our fave fishes come from, they're not typically "blackwater" habitats, yet they do have a lot of botanical materials present, like leaves, twigs, seed pods, and such. However, many of these habitats also have smooth stones, smooth fallen tree trunks, and fine/mixed sand, worn down by relatively swift currents.  

Many are turbid, detritus-and-sediment-filled locales, different in many respects from our blackwater systems, and radically different from the way many of us might perceive nature. 

Yet, they are incredibly alluring.

And then, there are shrimp habitats.

Many habitats where shrimp, like Neocaridina and Caridina and the like come from have clear water, sand bottoms, epiphytic algae and marginal/aquatic plants...and leaves. Others, are smoothly worn rock pools in little waterfalls, which have accumulations of algal films, occasional twigs and small branches, and of course, leaves. And the water is typically fairly clear, as opposed to "tinted."

If I were to do a dedicated Caridina aquarium (don't tempt me), specifically for my personal fave, the "Bee Shrimp" (Caridina cf. cantonensis), I'd definitely do a tank with lots of the aforementioned smooth stone; perhaps I'd use the ridiculously named, but very cool "Ancient Pagoda Stone"). My substrate of choice would be a Fien sand, and perhaps some of the "Marine biosediment" materials which I use in my brackish tanks.

For botanicals, I'd use a selection  of materials like Fishtail Palm Stems, Bamboo Leaves, a few Dregea Pods, Nypa Palm flowers, and maybe a smattering of Guava Leaves. Nothing that would tint the water too much, but stuff that adds to the look and function ( in this case, "recruiting" epiphytic algal growths and biofilms) of the aquarium.

If you were so inclined, I suppose you could include some aquatic plants, like Pogostemon erectuswhich, although not necessarily biotope specific, seem to represent (at least IMHO) some of the aquatic plants you might occasionally find in these habitats. I admit, not being a full-on aquatic plant guy, I haven't exhaustively or even super-enthusiastically researched what, if any species are typically found in these habitats- but there is information out there for sure.

But, yeah, I like the idea of some algal-covered stones and accumulations of leaves and botanicals. Simple, yet alluring- and biotopically "on point", I think.

That's how I'd do it. 

I think that this is a bit of a departure from the usual-plant-dominant aquariums in which so many enthusiasts seen to keep their shrimp. I may be a little out of touch, but I see a tremendous amount of shrimp tanks that are essentially beautiful planted aquariums. Nothing wrong with this at all, but I think that really taking a look at their natural habitats and working from there yields yet another very attractive look that you have to really execute to appreciate.

One of the reasons why I"m so in love with Rachel O'Leary's recent shrimp tank video (besides the fact that it features our botanicals!) is that she properly emphasizes using botanicals in them...

Indeed, she is an avid believer (like me) that you don't always need to use botanicals to create blackwater aquariums. Her shrimp tanks have plants to a certain degree, but botanicals rightfully take center stage- doing what they do in nature- accumulating biofilms and epiphytic growth, and providing grazing opportunities for the shrimp.

I love how we can always seem to turn to Nature to 

I mean, there are even locales in African Rift Lakes where you might find materials like leaves and some branches and plant parts accumulating over mud or sediment. In fact, these areas are host to a variety of different fishes with unique life habits.  Obviously, the water is extremely hard and alkaline- and clear- in these habitats, influenced more by geology than wood or leaves or other materials, yet you will see the presence of botanical materials in there. 

I think it's a matter of selection. A matter of looking at what you actually see in Nature and interpreting it for our aquariums. 


A lot of what you'll see in many wild habitats is a bottom consisting of sediments, and, and a matrix of leaves and branches covered by epiphytic algal growths. And again, the water is not necessarily brown, or even slightly tinted. In fact, it's often more "turbid" than "tinted." Even in our beloved Amazonian region, areas like the Pantanal often have sandy bottoms covered with leaves and branches...and clear, or slightly turbid water.

Natural habitats where many of our fishes hail are perhaps not even all that "conventional" by aquarium/aquascaping standards. Again, a tangle of twigs, branches, and leaves covered in sediment and algal films is not everyone's idea of "attractive" for aquarium purposes- but it's very, very authentic. And I think it's one of those things that you have to actually execute to appreciate.

Like many of the aquariums we proffer here, you'll need to make some mental shifts to enjoy this look. You'll likely face the usual criticisms from dark corners of the Internet, criticizing your use of alga and detritus-filled hardscape as "the result of lackadaisical husbandry practices" and "low standards of cleanliness..."

Been there, heard that. Right?

And sure, perhaps you will have to point to videos and photos of the many wild habitats which reflect these features in order to "vindicate" yourself among your peers.

Maybe you'll change some minds. Maybe you'll unlock some secrets.

Can you handle turbidity and sediment? CAN you? 🤔

It's okay to "look past the tint" and into the future...

Stay resourceful. Stay interested. Stay bold. Stay creative...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 




Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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