The refreshing thrill of "spontaneous scaping..."

Every one in a while, I love to just totally "go rogue", and completely switch up what I'm doing with one of my aquariums. Part of it is because I'm a restless fish geek, the other part is because, as an aquatics vendor, I need to switch it up once in a while and show some new looks to inspire our community and customers.

That's been cool, too, because it pushes me to do better...

And the real reason, is because it's just plain old fun!

Case in point:

Yesterday, upon returning fro ma morning down at my local beach, for no apparent reason, the "muse" hit to simply lay waste to the current aquascape in my 50-gallon home blackwater aquarium and just do something 360 degrees from what I had been doing.


And lay waste, I did!

One of my "signature moves" when doing a tank overhaul is to just get EVERYTHING out as quickly as possible, so as to quell any desire to retreat and revert...It's a way that I will keep going- a metaphorical casting off of the life jacket, so to speak.

I had absolutely no plan in mind.

The potential for disaster was high.

And so was the potential for something cool!

And oddly, I was totally comfortable with that.

I just wanted to do something different than what I had currently.  

My "planning" for this process consisted of throwing down a plastic drop cloth, grabbing an assortment of my fave fish towels, and making sure good music was sued up on my iPhone. I iterally grabbed an assortment of different wood types, without much consideration except, "Will they fit in the aquarium?", looked 'em over near the tank, and just started...playing. 

And it was incredibly fun. Liberating, almost. Because, perhaps for one of the first times in years, I really couldn't care less what I came up with. I allowed myself literally the rest of the day, if needed, to just do. Now, I'll be the first to confess that, at least lately, I will hit that "I'm done" moment after a few hours- lots less time than in years past! 

Well, it was nice to give myself the latitude.

After "previewing a few wood varieties, I settled on one that I've used only a handful of times over a lifetime of fish keeping- "Spider Wood." The so-called "blonde" variety, specifically.

Now, I've always liked this stuff, but just never got around to using it in anything other than a small tank. I never even considered using it in something mid-sized, like my 50 gallon.

We've pretty much always sold this stuff as "WYSIWYG", until fairly recently...and I sometimes think that selling it as "Hand-Selected Pieces" (ie; random ones we pic FOR you!) is just as good.

I mean, they ALL pretty much have unique attributes and almost every piece looks good from one or more angles. You almost can't go wrong, really.

Sure, there are a few particularly large, outstanding pieces that we fall into now and again, but they never seem to sell, lol I grabbed the lone "big guy" in my inventory for just that reason! :)

And oddly, I told myself the only "rule" I would follow is that I wasn't trying to specifically represent a natural habitat this time...Rather, it was tp be more of a "contrived" or "derivative" scape inspired by nature, not necessarily trying to replicate it. Coming up with a hardscape that was more fun and interesting that it was "natural-looking", later to be complimented by leaves and botanicals...

A pleasant departure for me.

Now, I'll be the first to tell you that "Spider Wood", although stupidly easy to work with, has it's own set of quirks. First, most of the ones we work with are smaller. Cool, but the peices are rather challenging to "fit together" if your goal is to make it look like they are part of one "organic formation", if you will, so you really have to use some forward vision if that's your goal and you're using the little peices.

I mean, if you look closely at a lot of displays that use this wood, they look sort of like a bunch of little peices all stuck together. Which, I suppose, is part of the "charm" of the stuff. You have to envision it after a month, covered with a "patina" of biococver, surrounded by decomposing botanicals...


My understanding that what the aquatic trade refers to as "Spider Wood" is the roots of Rhododendron (aka Azalea), a genus of over a thousand woody plants found in Asia and North America. Like everything else in the aquarium hardscape trade, the exact species or origins are kept shrouded in a sort of deliberate mystery. That being said, it's no mystery why the stuff is popular! It looks pretty cool...once you figure out how to use it! 

And, as an added "bonus", this stuff releases a lot of nice, water-tintitng tannins...something that freaks the f--- out of most hardcore aquascapers (much to my sadistic delight, as you know), but something that our tribe just loves! Oh, and the plant (and I think likely by extension, the roots) is known to offer possible anti-inflammatory and hepatoprotective activities which may be due to the antioxidant effects of flavonoids or other phenolic compounds and saponins the plant contains...

If you recall, some of these same substances are known to occur in Catappa leaves, and there are documented fish health benefits of catappa, validated in scientific research. SO...hmm...maybe?

Holy detour, Batman! Okay, so back to the scraping thing...

So, I started grabbing pieces...and just sort of "plunking them down" into the tank. I tried a few "stacks" which, every time I stepped back, looked a lot like, well- stacks of random wood. "Okay. enough of this shit...go back to that reef aquascaping thing you know..", I told myself...And in the back of my mind, I recalled an old pic of a tank that my friend, James Sheen of our sister company, Blackwater UK, did a while back that stuck...And things started progressing more quickly from there.

And...a scape emerged.

 Now, the skeptic in me says, "The freaking thing still looks like a #$^&%@ bunch of peices stuck together!" But hey, it kind of works...

And the cool thing to me is that it kind of got me out of a sort of "comfort zone" I've been in for some time, sort of going more towards a "contrived" aquascape with this one. And that's part of the fun, too! Stepping out of my comfort zone, opening up all sorts of interesting options.

 The fun part is going to be figuring out what types of botanicals and leave that I'm going to use in this scape; how I'm going to give this a more "evolved" sort of look, versus a "pure design" sort of thing.

And I think the point of my little "How I spent my Sunday" thing is to just show how we can all stand to be a bit spontaneous now and again. I have to say, I love how this thing is starting to turn out, and I think that the potential is really cool. 

And it all started by simply...doing.

Perhaps a tiny lesson in there for you, but a bigger one for me!

Stay open-minded. Stay adventurous. Stay creative. Stay spontaneous...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 




Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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