Tackling the Winter "To Do' List...

As Winter get's going, the real "Aquarium Season" ramps up, and it's perhaps a good time to start an interesting list of new things to try when aquariums once again become the focus of your leisure time, after the holidays and parties and such.

I have a few ideas that I've been telling myself I'd like to get to "soon.." (You know how THAT goes, right?) 

I figure that if I commit them to writing, I'm more likely to work on them more, and perhaps pique interest from a few of you....

"The List..."

Have you played around with terrestrial plants in your aquarium?

I know the idea has been around a long time. It's not a new idea by any stretch. However, in the context of what we do with our botanical-style blackwater aquariums, it has some interesting possibilities. And this is not rocket science. We've seen a bunch of you playing with this concept and it's very intriguing. 

It's like totally simple, actually...Take a cutting of a typical houseplant, like a Golden Pothos (Epipremnum pinnatum) or Split Leaf Philodendron (Monstera deliciosa), let it root, and add it to your aquarium, where it will put down an impressive tangle of roots and marginal growth not unlike that encountered in many of the blackwater habitats that we admire so much. 

Now, many terrestrial ("emergent") plants are known for their ability to remove nutrients form the water, and have become a sort of "secret weapon" for nutrient control and export (as well as assimilation of CO2 from both the water and air) for many aquarists who keep high-metabolic- waste-producing cichlids and such. And of course, us being lovers of the natural vibe in general, we like them as much for their aesthetic as for anything else!

There is a lot to be said for trying to duplicate the root tangles found in many tropical aquatic habitats, as they serve as shelter, foraging area, and territory "breaks" for a variety of fishes. We've talked about how they can function well as "nurseries" for juvenile fishes. I fondly recall seeing young killifish darting among the roots in my 10-gallon fry tank back in the day, and it was a really cool sight!

I'd like to do that again.

And of course, it's pretty easy to use these houseplants in our aquariums...you literally take a cutting, root it in water for a couple of weeks, and then add it to your aquarium. I suppose you could even root the plant in your substrate, but I've always just let them do their thing in water. I'm eager to try this again, because I think that this type of aesthetic will really help replicate the igarape and igapo habitats that I'm so intrigued with. 

The other idea that I think warrants a lot more attention from our community is to experiment more with bark.


Yeah, like catappa bark. Not only is this stuff interesting to look at, it harbors all of the benefits of catappa leaves (i.e.; tannins, humic substances), lasts a very long time, and can be a perfect "tint vehicle" for those who "love the color but hate the leaves" in their tanks (yeah, there are a few of you...).

Since they don't break down into little bits and pieces like leaves, the use of "stacks" of bark pieces in the blackwater aquarium is a real win-win, providing an interesting aesthetic as well as "functional" benefits. It's literally a "tint hack" for easy, dark blackwater...

I could even envision a smaller aquarium with extensive coverage of bark strips/pieces over the sand substate, with maybe a few types of complimentary botanicals (like "Lampada Pods", Coco Curls,  "Ceu Fruta", and "Terra Sorrindo"), perhaps a scattering of leaves (like Guava), and whatever wood you're into. A sort of "sub-hardscape" that would be interesting to see implemented. The truly bold among you would just go for the "sub hardscape" sans wood...no vertical elements..crazy cool! Anyone who does this gets serious extra points in my book (and perhaps some other Tannin "goodies" if you share pics...hint, hint...)!

Now, the preparation of catappa bark is like most any of our aquatic botanicals...quite straightforward: Just steep them in boiling water for a few minutes, followed by a day or two in room temperature freshwater. This not only helps them saturate and sink, but releases any surface "dirt" (it IS tree bark we're talking about here...) that might be present.


And, since we're always talking about trying some new stuff, I think it's time to do a little experimentation with brackish water stuff. We've been moving a lot of "Estuary" mangrove branches/roots (seems like we're photographing and uploading new pieces as fast as the ones on the site sell!) and leaf litter, so it looks as though there is a lot of interest in this more "botanical" approach we're advocating...and a ton of room for experiments! With some upcoming videos and photoshoots of some brackish-water efforts to provide inspiration, we're thinking it could be a "sort of salty" Winter for many of you...

Time to start working on substrates.

Yes, I think that the combination of sand/mud substrate materials, along with mangrove leaf litter, terrestrial soil, and perhaps even planted aquarium substrates, will yield some interesting results. The idea of growing plants like Cryptocoryne ciliata and other brackish-water-adaptable rich-substrate-loving plants in the brackish-water equivalent of a "dirted" tank is becoming more and more intriguing! 

Outside of the mangrove leaf litter, I don't think you need to incorporate all sorts of aquarium-specific materials either. Many of you have played with the mud/dirt concept in typical planted aquaria, and have a pretty good idea about what works in this situation. I believe it's directly applicable to brackish, albeit with a calcareous sand component for help in buffering.

This is a field that's absolutely wide open for "ground floor"- and potentially ground breaking-experimentation by brave hobbyists willing to go where few, if any have gone before!

Not that you don't have enough of your own ideas on your list to play with...

So those are a few items on my version of "The "List" as we head into Winter  Will I get to them?

Maybe. Will YOU get to them- or to yours? I hope!

So, in the mean time- hit that "to do" list. Tackle some items on yours...unlock some secrets, and share your journey!

Stay excited. Stay ambitious. Stay curious. Stay bold.

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


Leave a comment