Where in the world?

A lot of you ask about what botanical materials to use for specific types of fishes or their habitats. It's a good question, and one which has a bunch of different answers, actually. Now, many of you ask about botanicals from specific geographic regions, because you're looking to create a "Southeast Asian" or "Amazonian", or "West African"- themed tank.

I love that we are all applying our love of botanical materials for specific reasons in our aquariums. Of course, I think that most of us  need to relax a little bit when it comes to our selections, and not get too uptight about it!

Now, if you're really hardcore about every botanical being strictly from the region in which your fishes are found, make use of the (okay, admittedly long-winded) descriptions on our website product pages. For each botanical, we'll list the geographic origin. Some botanicals are very specific to one country (ie; Brazil), whereas some will simply be listed from "South America", because they are not necessarily limited to one countryin the region.

Now, the important thing to know is that many of the botanicals we offer are found in various parts of the world, and can sort of "represent" materials found in specific geographic environments. Some are "circumtropical", or come from plants which have been transplanted by man throughout the world. Most of our items, however, fall into that category we've often referred to (rather unprofessionally, I must confess) as "generic tropical"- stuff that represents the materials you might find in tropical aquatic ecosystems around the world.


We've kind of made that argument that, once leaves are submerged and starting to break down and such, one would be hard-pressed to make the call and state firmly that a given item somehow looks out of place from a geographic standpoint (unless, of course, one happens to be a botanist!). Now, again, it's always been my personal opinion that you can utilize whatever items you want in virtually any situation, because even an Asian botanical perfectly represents a botanical item from say, Africa or South America...especially once it's "down and wet..."

In other words, the cool-looking Cariniana pod from the Cariniana legalis tree of South America would be perfectly at home in an Amazonian-themed aquarium. It would also be perfectly acceptable in a Southeast Asian or African-themed tank, as it resembles some of the botanical materials that are found in the aquatic habitats of these regions.

"Generic Tropical."

However, I've seen dozens of biotope aquariums in big competitions representing very specific Asian or South American habitats, with substrates covered in Beech or Oak leaf litter from Europe or North America, and no one- judges included- batted an eyelash, so...

I'm just sayin'.

IMHO, we shouldn't get too bent out of shape about this stuff. 


And, to make things even more interesting, let's ponder for just a moment exactly "how" botanical materials which are found in tropical waters actually get there in the first place!

The reality is that most of the materials which accumulate on the substrate or elsewhere in the aquatic habitats we try to recreate either were there to begin with before the water arrived (as in the case of the flooded igapo forest floors of South America), or fell into the water from overhanging vegetation, or were swept up by flooding, wind, or other natural events.

There is really not some set model for how these materials arrive into aquatic habitats. And, to be objective, I have to proffer that many of the materials that we offer for this purpose are from trees and shrubs often not found directly in the path of water.

Maybe they're from areas nearby.

Some are from mountainous regions or plains which don't have bodies of water in the vicinity that they're found. Again, they are selected for inclusion in our offerings because they have an appearance or characteristics which represent those of materials that we've seen in various aquatic habitats.

"Generic tropical."

Don't stress over it. Enjoy it. Incorporate the function and aesthetics from materials which represent those found in our favorite tropical aquatic habitats. Learn about the habitat, and how materials accumulate in the waters- and how they influence the fishes that live in them.

Your aquarium will look cool. Trust me.


Now, I admit, while I'm a bit "lax" on my botanical selections when it comes to representing a given geographic region, I'm almost stupidly anal about fishes in a given tank all being from the same area...well, at least to a certain extent, anyways. I'm focused fairly tightly, but not obsessively:  Like, every fish added to the tank has to be from the general region that all of the others are from...or that the tank's "scape is supposed to "represent."


That's admittedly a big stretch, when you consider a "region" can encompass tens of thousands of square miles, right? 

And, I must confess:

I'm not immune to any "temptations" I might encounter along the way to my ultimate goal...

There is always that part of me which falls headlong into that "shiny object syndrome"- you know something cool catches my eye along the way, and there I am, off on a tangent, researching and considering ways to "modify" my plan...complete with justification ("Well, you know, just because I SAID it's going to be an Asian blackwater stream with Rasbora espie doesn't mean that I can't have a few of those Copella arnoldi in there. I mean, "SPLASHING-FREAKING TETRA- HELLO!" )

Yeah. Shit like that. I mean, no one is perfect, right?

Like, that's how it goes...

And the sad truth is that, unless you're one of those people who is absolutely obsessed with complete authenticity, or is entering into one of those carefully-scrutinized biotope aquascaping contests, it likely doesn't matter all that much, right? Having generally "geographically proximate" fishes in the same tank, has always been a "decent standard" for me personally.

I've always felt that the fishes that are from the same general region- even if not from the exact locale or ecological niche-will probably not interact all that much differently than they would if they were some other random species from their habitat...right?  I mean, a Dachshund and a Golden Retriever are both dogs, and...

Um, yeah. You can argue this one as much as you want, I suppose.


Sure, if you're like me, you'll carry with you that personal "mark of shame" and yeah- some feelings of guilt- for as long as you own the tank, or perhaps until your overwhelming horror at having made this "geographic transgression" finally takes you down and forces you to remove the "offending"  fishes into a tank of their own (hopefully with more "geographically-appropriate" tankmates , of course).

It's kind of...ridiculous...

Or is it? 

On the other hand,  if you really want to take this argument farther- are fishes from different parts of the world all that physiologically dissimilar?

I mean, sure, fishes evolved over eons to take on specific characteristics that were likely adaptations to specific environmental conditions they'd encounter. Although I've often wondered wether or not a blackwater stream with a pH of 4.8 in Borneo is THAT much different, at least generally speaking, than an Amazonian igarape with the same pH.

I mean, sure there are probably some subtle flora/fauna/geology differences which impact the chemical composition on a level we as hobbyists are not able to distinguish, but are they THAT much different?

I wonder...Not that you ever would (for obvious reasons), but if you transplanted, say, a Rasbora from a stream in Southeast Asia to a jungle stream in the rainforests of Brazil, or a Nanostomus to a Sarawak jungle stream- could the fish adapt?

I mean, one could even take the argument about geographic suitability to our botanical game. We could ponder if a Cariniana legalis seed pod from Brazil in our Asian-themed tank would somehow be detrimental to our fishes- or perhaps not as physiologically beneficial- as a more geographically appropriate Sterculia pod from Thailand.

We could.

Yet, wouldn't that literally be like "splitting hairs?"

Could the humic substances and tannins be "something in the water"which bridges at least part of that gap between wild habitat and aquarium?  I suppose one could argue that there are very specific biochemical "signatures" that locale-specific botanicals could impart into their aquatic environments, yet that is really speculative, until we know what exactly to look for! 

What an exciting thing that will be in the future, huh? Yet, I can see how this could drive people crazy...

I mean, where does it end?

And what benefit or detriment would we be experiencing as a result of our decision to include/exclude a specific botanical, wood, substrate, or other material in our 100% authentic "geographic-focused aquarium?" And let's be honest, it's virtually impossible to obtain some items from various geographic locales, because of various nations' bio-protection laws and such (and we're happy they exist!), so the point is largely moot, IMHO.

So we can't stress out over NOT having access to every leaf, seed pod, or twig in a given area for our next entry into some biotope aquarium contest. Besides, I'm 100% convinced that most judges couldn't tell the difference between a palm set from Thailand, or one from Colombia. 

I'm just not.

Sorry, guys. Soem of these people should lose their damn attitudes, because it's absurd. I mean, once these materials are submerged and covered in biofilm and such, unless you're analyzing them with a microscope and an ICP-OES machine, or doing DNA sequencing, you won't know.


Let's just say "broadly" (at the risk of over-generalizing) that most any botanical can be used in our interpretation of a blackwater, botanical-style aquarium. Many of our botanicals should be thought of as "reasonable facsimiles" of the materials found in the wild aquatic habitats of the world. The point is that in the vast majority of hobby activities, we don't need to get all "stressed out" about including the exact items found in the waters with our specific fishes.

Rather, we should seek to enjoy the aesthetic that they bring to our tanks, the enrichment that they add to the environment, and the joy they bring us. Just putting ideas "in the water" is an amazing creative process that we are honored to be a part of.

Stay creative. Stay observant. Stay dedicated. Stay enthusiastic. Stay diligent...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics


Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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