One of the more common questions we receive about botanicals is my opinion on thei"durability" of specific materials- that is, how well they stand up to submersion long-term.
It's a really good question, not only from a practical standpoint (As in- "How often am I gonna have to replace these damn things...?"), but from a standpoint of how they can become a more "permanent" feature in your hardscape.
And of course, we're asked which particular ones are (in our opinion) the most durable?
It's such a common question that we thought it would make a really interesting little blog post...In fact, we are thinking of developing a "durability scale" and some sort of simple-to-understand graphic (representing a "durability factor"- high, medium, low) to go on the product description of each botanical.
Would you like that? Let us know!
As we start our quick review, it's important to note that, although there most certainly ARE a bunch of botanicals which hold up better during long periods of submersion, there are many variables which can affect their durability, such as the water chemistry, current, the types of fishes you maintain, etc. Hell, just being in water over time softens stuff...
Water is a tremendous "solvent"- right?
I mean, do the words "Grand Canyon" mean anything to you?
Oh, back to botanicals...
The constant "grazing" or foraging activities of some species of fishes and shrimp (and snails!) can begin to break down the tissues of even the most durable pods over time, often from the inside out- a factor that we don't always think about.
And of course, our recommendations to prepare your botanicals by boiling or soaking begin the process by "softening up" these materials- to what extent is largely dependent upon which botanicals we're talking about, but all soften to some degree via the preparation process.
Most of the more durable botanicals we work with are the seed pods of various species of plants, and often are comprised of a wall-like structure called a pericarp. The pericarp has a durable single-cell layer called the exocarp, which facilitates gaseous exchange and protects the seed or fruit within. This layer can be pretty solid, and depending upon the species, may last a pretty long time under water.
That being said, all botanical materials will soften over time, gradually breaking down, often from the inside, where the tissues are softer and less durable. Fishes like Plecos, some characins, and many species of snails and shrimp will gradually consume portions of both the exterior and interior parts of the pod, which may also break down from fungal or bacterial action over time. You've sent us lots of pics over the years of fishes and shrimp consuming the softer interior parts of many botanicals- a process which happens in nature, too!
So, with all of these factors in play, there are some botanicals which will really stand up well to long term submersion, and we'll look at just a few of our most durable faves here. Let's face it, I realize that whenever I compile a list of ANYTHING about the stuff we sell, it's kind of tough not to accuse me of some form of "crass commercialism..." I mean, it's sort of like a promotion for our stuff, right? That being said, it's important for many of you to know the durability of the materials you're spending your hard-earned cash on, so please make that your takeaway here.
This is by no means an exhaustive examination, or even THE definitive ranking for them- but the few that made my personal "short list" of "Most Durable" are certainly ones that have proven to be long-term "players" in both my systems and those of others in our community for some time!
You will no doubt have your own additions and/or observations on this stuff- so let's hear 'em!
Here are my faves for durability and longevity:
1) "Ceu Fruta"- this is actually a seed pod from plantation-grown Mahogany trees (Swietenia sp.), so you'd expect it to be extremely durable...and it is. These pods are one of the longest-lasting botanicals we work with; I've had specimens go over a year without any significant "softening" occurring. Oh, and they release a lot of water-tinting tannins, so they're a real great "vehicle" for creating blackwater conditions!
2) "Lampada Pods"- these are really durable, almost "nut-like" pods, and will hold their shape and "structural integrity" for extended periods of time.
3) "Savu Pods"- I still have a Savu Pod in use that's been submerged, more or less continuously, for the better part of 3 years. That pretty much says it all.
4) "Jungle Pods"- Of course, you'd expect these large, woody pods to be durable. And they are. Although they will soften quicker than most of the larger pods mentioned here, they are among the most durable and versatile botanicals we offer.
5) "Heart Pods"- General "aquatic botanical rule": Anything that sinks like a rock the second you drop it in water tends to last a really long time submerged.
These pods sink like a rock.
6) "Ra Cama Pods"- These big, solid pods last a good long time under water. They are excellent for vivariums, too, as they stand up to humidity really well.
7) Monkey Pot"- Speaking of vivariums, these are rock hard, extremely durable botanicals- probably the single most durable botanicals we offer. Use them in wet, dry, or humid environments- they last almost indefinitely in most conditions.
In the end, durability is a relative term.
What I see as "long-lasting" might be unacceptably short to some- especially newcomers to our game who are accustomed to more "traditional" hardscape materials, like wood, which lasts a really long time under water.
That being said, I think it's at least important to share some sort of "baseline" observations of this "durability factor", so that you can have a "starting point" for creating the kind of hardscape that you're trying to achieve!
By knowing what will last longest, you can make more informed decisions- and we're happy to help you with that!
In future installments, we'll examine items from our collection that are specifically suited for certain things- like "tint capability", "substrate enhancement", and overall "ephemeral factor" (like, the fastest-decomposing items!)...useful stuff like that (well, useful to us BWBS aquarium geeks, that is!
Until next time...
Stay curious. Stay excited. Stay informed. Stay patient...
And Stay Wet.