What mood you're in...and the mindset you adopt.

Every once in a while, I admit, I get a little "bored" with the hobby.

Well, not "bored", in the usual sense- but perhaps a bit annoyed with it. I have been in the aquarium hobby since I was literally a toddler, so it's understandable that now and again, it's possible to be a bit "distracted" from it, for one reason or another.

My "solution" to "resolving" the occasional hobby malaise has traditionally been to let things go on "cruise control" for a bit, or to engage in one of the many other hobby sectors. Huh? Like,  if I'm a little bit "over" South American "Igapo" simulations, I'll play around with keeping fancy Mollies. Perhaps I'm tired of characins? I'll just work on the reef tank...etc.

Sometimes- rarely, though- the best solution is to simply back away from the whole thing for a bit. Just have an aquarium or two..enjoy them from a purely superficial standpoint. To not constantly study and tweak and modify and analyze every aspect of them. A true mental break; a "re-set" to get yourself re-energized, re-focused, and reengaged. 

I did this recently, and it made a big difference in my hobby enjoyment and overall productivity.

And, the beauty of it is that you can try new stuff when you get "back in the saddle" again. I came off one of those "need to step away" cycles in mid 2019, spent a lot of time "deep diving" into some unique habitats, and suddenly had an incredible burst of creativity and a desire to try new ideas. I'd say that 2019-2021 was one of Tannin's most creative and important "eras."

The energy from this period led to the idea of the "Urban Igapo", which was my hobby homage to the seasonally inundated forests of Amazonia. Developing the techniques to actually "manage" this type of system was, to me, actually the fullest expression of the botanical-method aquarium- a literal interpretation of the function and form of these habitats, and any evolution in the Botanical Method aquarium hobby space.

Suddenly, for me, it all made sense: Recreating the way terrestrial materials interact with the aquatic environment in a very "foundational" way. Besides just managing an aquarium during wet and dry "seasons", running an "Urban Igapo" setup is a dynamic demonstration of how terrestrial materials impact, and indeed, shape, the aquatic environment.

This was a transformational thought, from a transformational time for me.

As the branches, leaves, seed pods, and soils are submerged, they recruit fungal growths, bacterial biofilms, algae, and other life forms on their surfaces- just like what happens in Nature. We need to change the nomenclature associated with "establishing" an aquarium. In the botanical method, there is no "curing" of wood- indeed, the whole hobby concept of "cycling" an aquarium simply becomes a metaphor for "function."

I think that idea of an ecology forming within the confines of the aquarium is an absolutely fundamental part of our "practice." In fact, the establishment of this ecology is the basis for everything that we do!

Like with so many things we do in the hobby, it's easy for the uninformed, or for those who haven't bothered to grasp the reasons why our tanks look and function the way they do, to focus simply on the appearance as a primary "benefit" of the botanical method aquarium. I see this a lot on social media; so-called "influencers" who attempt to set up a botanical method aquarium tend to hyper focus on the way the tank looks, and make "blanket" statements like, "The tank is so natural looking.."

Well, it IS-  but that's not the whole game. It's about how natural-functioning it is. I mean, that's the whole game. Don't participate in the "dumbing down" of our hobby speciality by focusing only on the aesthetics...please. Too many hobbyists have devoted too much energy and time into "cracking the code" of botanical-method ecology to just treat this like it's some style of aquascaping.

One of the more satisfying things about working with the botanical aquarium method "movement" is that, over the years, we've seen our thoughts evolve from fringe ideas to interesting experiments to "best practices" as more and more hobbyists began to try them for themselves.

Pretty much a given in our methodology has been to employ leaves into our aquariums. We've been talking about this for 8 years now, and although it seems like a long time, not only weren't we the first people to suggest adding leaves to aquariums. I do, however, think that we were at least among the first to suggest that leaves be added to aquariums not simply to "tint the water" or "lower the pH", but to create a functional substrate which fosters a microbiome of organisms to support the aquarium.

Yeah, it's about the ecologica function.

Long-held fears and concerns, such as overwhelming our systems with biological materials, and the overall "look" of decomposing leaves and botanicals in our tanks, have understandably led to this idea being relegated to "sideshow status" for many years. It's only been recently that we've started looking at them more objectively as ecological niches worth replicating in aquariums.

Yet, to this day, we see  a lot of social media posts by both hobbyists (and distressingly) by some aquatic vendors/manufacturers just miss the point entirely- and waste valuable "mindshare" on social media waxing on about the aesthetics of adding leaves to your tank, and how they can create a "natural look." Yes, I cringe a bit when I see this- but don't get me wrong- adding leaves to your aquarium does create a cool "look". And once again, it's pretty "natural", for sure!

However, to merely proffer adding leaves to your tank for their visual sexiness overlooks the amazing ecological benefits they provide. And, often these suggestions fail to mention the fact that, even if you want leaves in your tank just for the look- they WILL have some impact on the environment within it. And there are implications about how we manage aquariums with leaf litter present.

And, we're doing this for a reason: To create more natural-functioning aquatic displays for our fishes, which just happen to look different (and attractive!) as well. 

To understand and acknowledge  that our fishes and their very existence is influenced by the habitats in which they have evolved. 

Wild tropical aquatic habitats are influenced greatly by the surrounding terrestrial geography and flora of their region, which in turn, have considerable influence upon the population of fishes which inhabit them, and their life cycle.

The simple fact of the matter is, when we add leaves and other botanical materials to an aquarium and accept what occurs as a result-regardless of wether our intent is just to create a different aesthetic, or perhaps something more- we are to a very real extent actually replicating  the processes and influences that occur in wild aquatic habitats in Nature!

The presence of botanical materials such as leaves in these aquatic habitats is essential.


In the tropical species of trees, the leaf drop is important to the surrounding environment. The nutrients are typically bound up in the leaves, so a regular release of leaves by the trees helps replenish the minerals and nutrients which are typically depleted from eons of leaching into the surrounding forests.

Most tropical forest trees are classified as "evergreens", and don't have a specific seasonal leaf drop like the "deciduous" trees than many of us are more familiar with do...Rather, they replace their leaves gradually throughout the year as the leaves age and subsequently fall off the trees.

The implication here?

There is a more-or-less continuous "supply" of leaves falling off into the jungles and waterways in these habitats, which is why you'll see leaves at varying stages of decomposition in tropical streams. It's also why leaf litter banks may be almost "permanent" structures within some of these bodies of water!

In Nature, leaf litter zones comprise one of the richest and most diverse biotopes in the tropical aquatic ecosystem, yet they were, for years, seldom-if ever- replicated in the aquarium. I think this was due, in large part- to the lack of continuous availability of products for the hobbyist to work with, and more importantly- a real understanding about what this biotope is all about- not to mention, the understanding of the practicality of recreating one in the aquarium.

Fast-forward a few years, and many of us are playing with the idea of incorporating leaf litter into our tanks- something that was given little more than a passing bit of attention a few years ago, if that.  This increased level of attention to this environmental niche among hobbyists is reaping benefits for those who have played with it.

Leaves are sort of the "gateway drug", if you will, into our world.


And it is a different world now. 

One in which your love for the hobby can certainly be influenced by the mood that you're in, and the mindset which you adopt.

Stay curious. Stay bold. Stay engaged. Stay diligent...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 


Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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