The natural functionality of "randomness..."

It's Tuesday...A nice day to muse a bit, right? 

Here's a thought:

Just because last year's big 'scaping contest winner had the "perfect" orientation, ratios, and alignment of the "(insert this year's trendiest wood here) branch" within the tank, doesn't mean it's a real representation of the natural functionality of "randomness." 

In other words, just because it looks "good", it doesn't mean it's what Nature looks like.

Or acts like, for that matter.

One of the things that we've noticed lately in the hobby, particularly in our sector, is a trend towards more "realistic" aquariums. Not just systems which look like natural environments; rather, systems which are modeled as much after the function of them as the aesthetics.

"Functional aesthetics."


A less rigidly aesthetically-controlled, perhaps less "high-concept" approach in the eyes of some- setting the stage for...Nature- to do what she's done for eons without doing as much to "help it along." Rather, the mindset here is to allow nature to take it's course, and to embrace the breakdown of materials, the biofilms, the decay...and rejoice in the ever-changing aesthetic and functional aspects of a natural aquatic system- "warts and all" -and how they can positively affect our fishes.

And yes- they do affect our fishes, don't they?

We're seeing that not only do botanicals, leaves, and alternative substrate materials look interesting- they provide a physiological basis for creating unique environmental conditions for our fishes and plants. We're seeing fish graze on the life forms which live in and among the decomposing botanicals, as well as the botanicals themselves- just like in nature...And we are seeing the influence- aesthetically and chemically- that these materials assert on the aquarium's environmental parameters.

Some of the "next" things that I see our community working on are further explorations into understanding and replicating natural water parameters and what the implications are for our aquariums. I also see more developments in trying to recreate some aspects of natural "food chains" in our natural, botanical-style aquariums, by facilitating the growth and reproduction of fungi, microorganisms, and small crustaceans within our botanical "beds" and leaf litter.

"Functional aesthetics."

It's really great to see our community exploring some of these ideas that may not tie to any specific "type" of aquarium. In other words, the lessons we're learning from botanical-style aquariums can apply to a variety of aquarium endeavors, like breeding, biotope aquariums, rearing of fry, and oh yeah- aquascaping. We're moving beyond the "will it work?" mindset we collectively had about these tanks just a few years ago, and moving into a "what can we do with what we're learning" era! 

Yeah, for a good part of the first couple of years of Tannin's existence,  I spent a great deal of time worrying about how the idea of a carefully conceived hardscape slowly transforming by the actions of fungi, bacteria, and decomposition would "play" to my fellow hobbyists.  I was worried about potential mistakes and disasters that would befall fellow hobbyists if they pushed too hard, "freelanced" it a bit.

If they ignored the processes behind the aesthetics.

Fortunately, it hasn't happened all that much.

Yes, some of you may have experienced some disastrous results experimenting with botanicals- particularly when adding them en masse to an established, stable aquarium. Excesses of carbon dioxide or other nasty things can happen. I had a few bad outcomes in my early days of experimenting with this stuff, myself. There IS a learning curve- even now. Botanical-style aquariums are NOT plug-and-play systems. You can't simply dump a bunch of prepared seed pods and leaves into an established aquarium and expect "Instant Amazon." 

It doesn't work that way. 

And we're learning that, just because the water has a "tint" to it doesn't mean that you're achieving "natural" environmental characteristics in your aquarium. 

This is a concept that we need to embrace. There is a lot more nuance- a lot more things you need to do, observations you need to make, and stuff to learn in order to get there.

Really- there are no shortcuts. 

Now, all that being said, it's not just one big "science experiment", and that there is no room or "tolerance" for the "art" of it all. Absolutely not. 

You can enjoy botanicals and blackwater aquariums in as much or little "detail" as you care to venture into.  You can enjoy this or any approach however you want. I just think that there is a lot of misinformation about blackwater aquariums, botanicals, and their associated use, and I'd hate to see that taint the real enjoyment you can achieve by exploring in a more uninhibited fashion (with due respect to Nature's "rules" about the nitrogen cycle, stocking, etc., etc.- the basics of aquatic husbandry...

It's about expectations and understanding. If you're just looking for a cool aesthetic, that's okay. You simply need to understand what happens to botanicals when they are submerged in they break down, what they do to the appearance and environmental parameters of our tanks. 

And yeah- they DO Look pretty cool...Even when they don't follow a perfect ratio, or a design-oriented mixture of color or texture... Randomness is part of nature...And, there really IS a functionality of "randomness!"

It's the era of "Functional Aesthetics"- and yeah, you're right in the thick of things.

Stay diligent. Stay observant. Stay curious. Stay creative. Stay dynamic...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics


Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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