An introduction to botanicals, and some of the pros and cons in my experience thus far...

Steve R. (WPT)

11/27/20234 min read

Botanicals in Aquariums: Enhancing Water Quality and Aesthetics

Aquarium hobbyists are always looking for new ways to enhance the aesthetics and water quality of their tanks. One such method gaining popularity is the use of botanicals. Botanicals, (STICKS AND TWIGS!!!!) are natural materials, such as leaves, seeds, bark, and roots, that release beneficial compounds into the water as they decompose. In this article, we'll explore the various aspects of using botanicals in aquariums, including their benefits, types, preparation, placement, maintenance, and potential drawbacks. To keep on track, I set this up like a Homework assignment, hence the format. Let's get started.

I. Benefits of Botanicals in Aquariums

Botanicals offer a range of benefits for aquariums, from improving water quality to enhancing aesthetics. As they decompose, botanicals release natural tannins and other compounds that can lower pH, soften water, and provide natural antibacterial and antifungal properties. Additionally, botanicals can create a more natural and diverse habitat for fish and other aquatic creatures, mimicking the natural conditions of their native environments.

II. Types of Botanicals for Aquariums

There are many different types of botanicals that can be used in aquariums, ranging from leaves and seeds to bark and roots. Some popular botanicals include Indian Almond Leaves, Catappa Leaves, Alder Cones, Oak Leaves, and Guava Leaves. Each botanical offers its own unique benefits and aesthetic appeal, and can be used alone or in combination with other botanicals.


III. Preparing Botanicals for Aquarium Use

Before adding botanicals to an aquarium, it's important to properly prepare them to ensure they are safe for aquatic life and won't cause any harm to your tank. This includes cleaning and soaking them to remove any dirt or debris, as well as boiling or soaking them in water to release any excess tannins that could cause water discoloration or pH changes.This is a topic of contention with a lot of people, however the most commonly agreed upon method is; to soak your Botanicals in hot water for a desirable amount of time, rinsing your Botanicals, and placing in the aquarium. I have a few videos on YouTube, one of which is a tutorial where I forage Botanicals, prepare them and place them into the aquarium.

IV. Placing Botanicals in an Aquarium

The placement of botanicals in an aquarium is important for both aesthetics and water quality. Botanicals can be used as a substrate, placed directly on the bottom of the tank, or used as a decoration, scattered throughout the tank or placed in specific areas to create a natural environment for fish and other aquatic creatures. It's important to consider the size and type of botanicals, as well as the needs and behavior of the tank inhabitants when deciding on placement. I personally just dropped stuff in the tank. I always say “trees don't have fingers” but this is your artistic expression, just keep in mind that this is organic matter, and understand that it will affect your water chemistry. We will discuss in the next sections.

V. Maintaining Botanicals in an Aquarium

Once botanicals are added to an aquarium, it's important to maintain them properly to ensure they continue to provide the intended benefits and don't cause any issues. This includes monitoring water parameters, such as pH and water hardness, as well as removing any decaying or decomposing botanicals to prevent ammonia spikes and other water quality issues. It's also important to keep an eye on any potential changes in water color or odor and adjust the botanicals accordingly. This is the part where sustainability really rears its head in the aquarium hobby. Leaf litter decomposing in an aquarium is essentially aquatic compost. with this decomposition are phenomena that may or may not be mitigated by your level of experience, your husbandry routine, and your understanding of ecology. In all Transparency,Going down this rabbit hole that is the diorama of aquariums I create. I learned at a young age when the leaves decomposed,they changed my water, sometimes creating gas and fish would die. It was later in life, when I learned the importance of microbes in ecology. (LIFE PERIOD). I Digress…

VI. Potential Drawbacks of Using Botanicals in Aquariums

While botanicals can offer many benefits for aquariums,As you just read in my experience there are some drawbacks to consider. These include: changes in water color and pH,Changing water chemistry, this affects the way that plants cannot take certain nutrients. sustainability, once you put them in your aquarium you're committed to the effects of those Botanicals! It doesn't matter if it's one alder cone or 12 oz of Catappa leaf. As far as potential negative effects on some species of fish and invertebrates are concerned,In my experience the benefits outweigh the risk however I would be remiss if I didn't include my experience after all, this is how the hobby grows.When I used the Steve's “Texas brewed” tannin tea for example, in the Pantanal(SWAMP) experiment that I ran for a few years. I noticed that it did substantially reduce the amount of oxygen in the aquarium and the effects were acutely immediate! { pristellas, HY511’S, Phantoms, and von rios} Those were the victims, the losses were minimal and mitigated immediately. The inference to oxygen saturation came from the fact that the first wave of fish lost, (2 or 3) was not enough to deter me from repeatedly doing it until the correlation was made that it was in fact the tanning tea causing the death! This was confirmed by a lot of water testing, and phone calls to trusted colleagues. keep this in mind when you add tannins to do so incrementally and remember that the oxygen saturation is affected by tannins and Humins. It's important to research the specific needs and tolerances of your tank inhabitants before adding botanicals, and to monitor water parameters regularly to ensure they are within safe ranges.

VII. Conclusion

Overall, botanicals can be a valuable addition to any aquarium, offering both aesthetic and water quality benefits. Selecting the right types of botanicals, preparing them properly, and placing and maintaining them, can create a natural and diverse environment for aquatic life. It's important to keep in mind the potential drawbacks such as changes in pH and water quality, as well as the potential for the release of tannins. With proper research, preparation, and monitoring, you can successfully incorporate botanicals into your aquarium and create a thriving and beautiful underwater world for your aquatic pets. My Hope of course is that you try some, and understand the larger part of the role that Botanicals play in ecology and different systems that benefit the well-being of the fish in your aquarium.