The "terrestrial element."

I often think about the interplay between land and water, and how we as aquarists work with this dynamic.

We are seeing more and more blackwater paludariums- aquatic features which incorporate elements of both land and water. Some of these incorporate  so-called "marginal" plants-  plants which are found along the margins of streams, rivers, ponds, and other bodies of water.

They grow at the muddy edges of these habitats, often with their roots and part of their stems underwater, while their leaves and flowers are above the water. We've featured them before, and we've been offering the cool AquaVerdi Riparium Planters for some time now, which many enthusiasts are using to create these types of displays.

I think we're going to see this more and more as we move forward with "Estuary", and explore the interplay between Mangroves and the aquatic environment, soils, and aquatic plants associated with the brackish water habitats we're fascinated by. There are a lot of cool elements to work with- Mud, soils, leaves, roots, plants, bivalves...

It's a biotope that we're just starting to look at in the context of our "botanical" vibe, and I think we're going to see hobbyists presenting an entirely new look in the brackish water realm soon, by incorporating more natural materials in an aesthetic that has not previously been associated with this habitat.

The mind-blowing display by Johnny Ciotti that we feature from time to time certainly blends many elements of both terrestrial and aquatic, and some of those cues fro the so called "Wabi Kusa" aesthetic as well, but in an entirely different way. What ideas can we gleam from this aquatic display?

Paludariums are becoming more and more "mainstream" too! While I think paludariums are super cool, I don't think that they should be the only way that we incorporate marginal or even terrestrial plants into our displays. When you look at the pics by our friend, Mike Tuccinardi, of the igapo flooded forests of Amazonia, which we so admire, you see an abundance of completely terrestrial grasses and plants, many of which will continue to grow and "peak up" above the water's surface. Since it's literally a flooded forest, the soil substrate must be covered with all sorts of plant materials, many of which seem to "find a way" to grow in these conditions. 

We've seen more and more aquarists incorporate terrestrial plants, like Philodendron, etc.- into their aquarium displays, and I think this is definitely a cool thing.

There is definitely something compelling about terrestrial (or even aquatic) and marginal plants growing out of the aquarium, tying together the water and land in a unique, natural-looking way.

We see a lot of tanks that are "not quite full" to foster this, and the aesthetics are amazing, as in Craig Thoreson's unique West African display.

An amazing display shared with us by Julio Silva does this in such an inspiring, dynamic way as to appear almost seamless.

And perhaps among the  most stunning of all is Vasarhalyi Imre's Southeast Asian display, which incorporates the "above and below" the waterline elements so well.

What I have yet to see in an aquarium, however, is a display in which terrestrial plants are anchored in the substrate of the aquarium, which is subsequently flooded as in nature. 

Or, could we grow terrestrial plants submerged completely from seeds or cuttings, allowing them to burst out of the water? I'm asking because, as you imagine- plants aren't really my thing, lol. However, with the enriched  aquatic plant substrates and even "dirted' tanks using terrestrial soils we're seeing in aquariums nowadays, it seems entirely possible and worth experimenting with, right?

With more and more tanks incorporating elements which "break the waterline", I think that we're going to see greater and more interesting interpretations of the "terrestrial element" in our botanical style/blackwater aquariums.

Final thought: I've been pushing this idea for a decade everywhere I talk; no takers  yet. Who's gonna do the first killer marine paludarium, based on the "coral rock islands" of Palau? Jungle above, reef below?

An incredible dynamic, challenging and fascinating for the hobbyist...and really not executed before to my knowledge.

(pic by Aquaimages, used under CC BY-SA 2.5)

In the end, our mission statement of "leaves, wood, water, life" encompasses this amazing interplay between land and water, and we'd love to see more and more exploration and creativity in this area presented by hobbyists.

Let's continue to strive "above and beyond" the waterline, bringing in that very special "terrestrial element" into our aquatic displays. Life arose from the water, and creativity seems to stem from there as well!

Stay focused. Stay creative. Stay relentless. 

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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