One of the things I find most interesting about nature, and the natural habitats that I personally obsess over (well, I think a few of you do, too!) is the sort of "randomness" of it all.
In other words- the way in which natural materials, like rocks, wood, leaves, botanical materials, etc. are distributed in a given body of water, forming the "topography", if you will, of a locale. The way these materials are distributed not only contributes to the interesting "look" of the area, but to the function which serves its underwater inhabitants- mainly, our fishes!
In aquascaping, we seem to apply a lot of interesting concepts to our work- some borrowed from art and design, and some from nature. And that's really cool. I don't think we should restrict ourselves in any way.
I really hate "rules" that some proffer about how things must be.
Now, don't get me wrong...the current state of "aquascaping" is pretty incredible. There is amazing work going on everywhere. However, many of the most beautiful works, in my opinion, tend to NOT have a certain "randomness" which I feel characterizes the most compelling natural habitats. It's not that they're poorly executed or "bad" in any way shape or form. It's just that to me, it's that many seem to lack a "connection", if you will, to the aquatic environments from which our fishes come.
IMHO, it's like, in our efforts to duplicate what we feel are the best parts of nature, we've unintentionally ended up distilling away some of the best parts of of it...
The "randomness", if you will.
And that's perfectly okay, of course, because they are flat-out gorgeous. Nothing wrong with that at all.
I personally just tend to like a slightly different aesthetic thing...
I am a bit partial to the blackwater/brackish-botanical-style aquariums we play with, if you haven't guessed. And I'm partial to them because, by their very nature, the defy our ability/desire/effort to control them to some extent. I mean, from the minute you add them to the aquarium, they begin to soften and break down, change sharp, form, and re-distribute throughout the aquarium.
And that's what's appealing to me. I mean, yes, you absolutely can (and I see a lot of people do this) do careful placement of botanicals in your tank, within an organized aquascape. Of course, unlike plants, rocks, wood, or other components that we tend to utilize in our 'scapes, botanicals will defy our efforts to "preserve" them. You can "edit" by cleaning, re-setting, or removing materials as they break down, defying, to some extent ,the forces of nature.
For a while, anyways. Then nature will win. She changes stuff based on her own needs. Not ours.
This is how nature works.
Look at the flooded igapo forests we write about so often here. Being a dry forest floor for a good part of the year, they are covered with materials from trees and such, which accumulate in bends and patches on the dry floor, driven by wind and other factors, only to be redistributed by current and gravity when the forests flood.
The mix of materials is, of course, dependent upon what plants, trees, and shrubs are in the immediate area, and brought in from nearby as a result of the aforementioned wind or previous flooding, etc. If you ask exactly what are the most common things you'd find in say, a typical South American locale, it would be materials form trees of Hevea brasiliensis.
This one plant alone has a significant variety of components which are found accumulating o the forest floors. And of course, a whole lot of palm fronds, branches, bark pieces, and other leaves are found there, too. At present, we utilize a variety of botanical materials to simulate the diversity of items which are found in these and other geographical locations.
And getting back to the random nature of this stuff, that's almost why creating a realistic representation of a natural habitat such as a flooded forest or jungle stream is actually a more challenging process than the neophyte would imagine ("Just dump leaves and twigs in the tank and add water...!"). I mean, you're not only dealing with what to use to repent these habitats- you're tasked with thinking about how much to utilize. Too great a variety of materials (is there such a thing...? Maybe?) could look a bit too "cluttered", right? On the other hand, depending upon the variety of materials present in a given locale, and the activity (wind, currents, etc.) which drove them there, you might see quite a few materials, right?
And then there is that whole "stuff breaks down" aspect, too. Your carefully laid-out aquascape will change regardless of how cool it is, because the natural processes of decomposition, coupled with water movement and the activities of your fishes, will result in many things being re-distributed throughout the tank. And that's pretty cool, really- because you have a most dynamic, constantly-changing scape! Now sure, you could be strategic, and create more of an "anchor", as many hobbyists do, by having a piece or group of wood or rocks form the basis of your permanent hardscape. And you could couple the "permanent" stuff with botanicals that are extremely durable, like "Savu Pods", "Jungle Pods", "Ceu Fruta", etc. Materials which, although they will eventually soften, are less likely to be re-distributed throughout the aquarium in the daily "life" that goes on there.
The less durable materials and leaves will provide the "random" and transient aspect to your aquascape, keeping it dynamic and ever-evolving. And for those of you who get bored easily, this is awesome- because you can keep replacing disintegrated botanicals with new ones you haven't tried before! So you get random distribution, accumulation, decomposition, and an influx of new materials...just like in nature.
Yeah, in our great effort to control the scene, we can often take some cues from nature. We can relax a bit, allowing her to do as she's done for eons...creating compelling, beautiful habitats which beg for us to stop for a second, drop our "aesthetic defenses", and savor them as they are.
Beautiful. Un-planned. Ever-changing.
Stay Inspired. Stay creative. Stay observant. Stay in awe...
And Stay Wet.