Using what you've got...working with botanicals with a different mindset. Monday meanderings.

One of the things I notice a lot with most blackwater, botanical-style aquariums is how quickly they seem to take on a more "mature" look. In other words, the wood sort of "mellows", the botanicals show a more "broken-in" look and appear to be softening, and the water has that initial burst of tannins creating a rich, dark color.

Ever noticed that?

I'm frequently amazed when a fellow hobbyist shows me a tank that's been set up for maybe two weeks, and it literally looks like it's been set up for months, or even longer! I think the very nature of these materials lends themselves to such an appearance and overall "vibe." Conversely, you can just tell when a botanical-style tank is brand new: The botanicals themselves look "fresh", the water is not quite dark, and the overall tank itselflf looks kind of "clinical"; like, really "clean" (gulp, I hate using that expression, lol- as if to imply that blackwater is "dirty" somehow...a common theme we've heard over the years!)

With leaves, the interesting thing is that they display a wide range of durability. My latest aquarium utilized Indian Jackfruit leaves and Yellow Mangrove Leaves as the primary leaf litter, and this combination has proved both attractive and quite durable, showing little breakdown of "structural integrity" even after like 3-4 weeks submerged.

In tests, these leaves always held up well, but it's the first time I have used them together in an actual display tank as the exclusive combination for my leaf litter bed...and I'm really impressed. 

Now, both of these leaves will tend to recruit biofilms fairly rapidly- something I've noticed with most "durable" leaves, like Magnolia, for example, which has a sort of "waxy" cutin layer that protects the leaf from the elements while on the tree. The Mangrove and Jackfruit don't have this layer, but display surprising durability even after softening a bit. And like in many cases, the initial biofilm layer tends to pass after a while.

I have always been a big believer in utilizing various types of catappa bark in my tanks, and I think they're still sort of underrated by many hobbyists for both aesthetics and their "functional capabilities" (i.e.; imparting lots of tannins into the water). These products, although increasingly popular with our customers, took a lot longer to catch on. I think a lot of the issue was that they were more expensive than leaves (because the prep work at the supplier level is greater, as is the shipping cost because of weight), and require a different sort of "aesthetic commitment" from the aquarist than leaves...They tend to last a lot longer than leaves, and are almost like wood in terms of how they'd appear in your overall aquascape.

As I play more an more with new applications for some of the materials I've worked with for years from a "functional" basis, I'm realizing how much potential they provide! I've even envisioned entire hardscape of just various catappa bark pieces over a thin sand substrate. Maybe a few leaves and a "twig" or two from another planet...but that's it. Just something different, perhaps utilizing materials we're already familiar with.


And I think that's kind of my overall mindset these days, in terms of utilizing botanical materials...Playing with new ideas and different combinations; mixing the familiar and the unfamiliar, in new ways. And seeing how they "meld" together in a scape as they break down and soften. These are always some of the more exciting aspects of playing with botanicals, IMHO.

And I'm pretty sure that's the best way to go with  just about anything we do with aquariums...Try new stuff...or new combinations of stuff you already know! 

Just my assortment of random thoughts on a Monday! Thanks for indulging me here.

Stay creative. Stay unique. Stay excited. Stay engaged...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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