If you've been I the aquarium game for more than, oh, say 6 months, you realize that you will be graced with some "suprises" along from time to time. And, unfortunately, they usually come in the form of stuff like disease outbreaks, heater failures, wet carpet, and lighting timer malfunctions...stuff like that.
However, every once in a while, you're visited by some things which exceed your expectations or surprise you in the most pleasant way: Unexpected fish spawning, the supposedly complex, stubborn filter which ends up going together easily,and working right out of the box, or the fish reputed to be hard-to-feed which gobbles up pellets minutes after being released from the bag.
As hardcore hobbyists, we don't take these surprises lightly, either! And, in our world, in addition to many of the warnings and caveats that we've featured here about potential disaster and the virus of going slowly, we are encouraged daily by so many exciting and pleasant discoveries and surprises. Here are just a few of our faves:
Texas Live Oak Leaves last a loooong time! Like, in many instances, two months or more before breaking down to any significant degree. This was definitely a surprise to me, as I was convinced they'd turn to mush in a couple of weeks at best. Obsessed with them!
"Substrato Fino" preps easily and doesn't turn your water into a muddy mess. Now, I had my feelings about the stuff from the earliest experimental days, and concerns that all it would do is create a muddy mess..However, it's been demonstrated again and again that this coconut-derived stuff sinks right to the bottom, imparts minimal cloudiness to the water, and is easy to rinse and reuse as needed. Oh, and annual killies love to spawn in the stuff!
"Blonde Spider Wood" turns a really "natural-looking" darker brown color over time...Yeah, I heard all of the negatives about the stuff and how "overplayed" and "unnatural" (lol, can wood be "unnatural?") it looks when you use it in a 'scape...but I like the twisted morphology, And low and behold, after a month or so, it looks a hell of a lot more like driftwood than it does like Azalea Root, or whatever it's alleged to be...It takes on a nice weathered "patina" and an unexpectedly rough texture...You just need to be really patient!
Yellow Mangrove Leaves can be used in blackwater aquariums. Yeah, despite their origin as predominantly brackish-water-occuring trees, and the initial concerns of us fish geeks, the leaves do not appear to release any measurable amount of salt into the aquarium water. I've tested batches of them steeped in pure RO/DI water with a digital refractometer, and never detected any salt. I've used them in water with no measurable carbonate hardness and low pH, without any issues. They impart significant "visual tint" into the water (they're known by science to be strong tannin-producers), are really long lasting, and look amazing!
"Savu Pods" are readily utilized by a wide variety of fishes for shelter and spawning sites. Well, we had a feeling...Most fishes can't resist a good cave, right? And these little pods from South America are just another "cave" to a whole bunch of Apistos, loaches, and even certain wild Betta species! We receive pics almost weekly of clutches of fry and adult fishes hunkering down in, one, and around these popular pods. Oh, and they look cool, too.
"Concha Pods" are actually consumed by many species of ornamental shrimp. Not just "grazed upon", but eaten. Now, this is actually true for a number of botanicals, but these pods seem to be particularly tasty to them for some reason! They're definitely worth including in a shrimp aquarium!
Mangrove Wood will accumulate a lot of biofilm initially. Well, we love a good "patina" as much as the next guy, but were unprepared for just how much this wood can produce! If you're looking for an ultimate, natural biological "seeding" material which happens to look pretty good as well, mangrove wood is really great stuff! I like to call it "dirty" wood, because it seems to really recruit this material on it's surfaces during its initial weeks of submersion. Fishes will continually graze on this wood and it will become a "hub" for biological activity in your aquarium.
Tinted brackish water aquariums are surprisingly easy to maintain. Yeah, the richly-colored water and earthy vibe of our botanical-style brackish aquarium concept is not only stable and easy to keep, it's a really interesting basis for a biologically active system. With a surprisingly rich substrate, decomposing leaves, and growing mangroves, the more natural approach to brackish water aquariums is much more interesting than the white/grey, bleak-looking versions that were preferred for so many years in this arena!
Palm Fronds are a great part of the botanical-style aquarium. With their unique look, structure, and utility, the idea of incorporating palm fronds in our aquariums just makes a ton of sense. I can't take credit for this one. My friend Tai Strietman was really the biggest "influencer" in this area. His use of fronds in his aquariums and their incredible aesthetics, along with his encouragement, inspired me to try them. They gradually break down under water and encourage growth of microorganisms, and other life forms, just like in nature. They add a completely natural, very realistic dimension to our BWBS-style aquariums! You've done some incredible stuff with them, and they've become a popular "staple" of our offerings for the past couple of years!
You can run perfectly successful and beautiful botanical-style aquariums without the tinted water. Yeah, use of chemical filtration media, like activated carbon, etc. will make your water crystal clear, even while filled with a significant array of botanicals. This is something that opens up the use of botanicals to a wider audience of people, who might be really into the idea of a botanical-filled aquarium, but not the tint and earthy vibe that we love so much. And if you are one of those "everything must be pristine" kind of hobbyists, you simply remove/replace the leaves and botanicals as soon as they start to break down. Easy.
Many plants will grow just fine in a blackwater aquarium. Sure, many blackwater habitats in regions like Amazonia have little in the way of aquatic plants, others, such as Asia and Africa, have an enormous variety of species which live and thrive in blackwater habitats. For a long time, hobbyists have been very hesitant to experiment with many varieties of aquatic plants outside of Cryptocoryne and a few others. Now, we're seeing bold and successful planted blackwater tanks with everything from Bucephalandra to Rotala...and we're really just getting started. Try a planted blackwater aquarium today! Think of the possibilities.
And that's what we think about the world of boatanical-style aquariums. Possibilities. Blackwater, brackish, planted, clear water, hard water...marine...So many ways to enjoy the unique aesthetics and utility of these wonderful natural materials in a variety of aquariums! We're intrigued and excited every day by the amazing ideas and body of work that we're seeing from our rapidly-expanding global community of adventurous, forward-thinking aquarists.
Pleasant surprises and exciting breakthroughs, tempered, of course, with some caveats and potential dangers- but worthwhile and exciting nonetheless for the bold, experimental, observant, and methodical aquarist!
Stay forward-thinking. Stay excited. Stay creative. Stay thoughtful...
And Stay Wet.