Start small and build up. The acids released will have an effect on your water parameters, especially in soft water areas.
BIOTOPES ARE no new thing. Aquarists have been recreating natural habitats for many years, but recently the biotope scene has become much more active, or at least louder than before. One trend that’s boomed of late is the use of botanicals and it’s not just biotope nuts embracing it; it’s also those who generally like a more naturalistic look, or who recognise the health benefits for fish.
Cattappa (Indian almond) leaves have been commercially available for quite some time, but now there are lots of other Indian leaves and seedpods you can buy, plus a huge number from South America too. There are also plenty of British native leaves you can collect for use in your tank.
If you’re buying botanicals from a reliable source, they will have been collected from areas of very low pollution and pesticide use. If you’re collecting native leaf litter, you should strive to do the same, but there’s always the possibility of contamination. Here are the steps you can take to safeguard your fish and prepare your botanicals for use.
What are the advantages?
Many leaves and seed pods have a natural antiseptic quality, increasing the disease resistance of your fish. As they break down, botanicals encourage the growth of biofilm and aufwuchs. This can be a real bonus for those species that specialise in eating this coating, such as Parotocinclus, shrimps and hillstream loaches. Many young fry will scavenge this microfauna from the surface of leaves too. If you are keeping fish that naturally inhabit forested areas, they will benefit from the tannic and humic acids that are leached from the leaves and seed pods as they slowly break down in the water.
Like the blackwater look?
You can easily make your own blackwater extract with a lengthy second boil of most botanicals, then collecting the water once it’s cooled. Personally, I find the best results are achieved by using native alder cones. After you’ve collected your blackwater extract, keep in a wellmarked bottle in the fridge.
Sometimes you may experience a proliferation of biofilm build-up, which becomes furry and quite unsightly. This tends to be a phase that occurs regularly on new botanicals in a tank, or sometimes sporadically on a particular type of botanical. This build-up will die off eventually. Alternatively you can remove affected items and gently wipe or brush the excess away, then rinse the botanicals and replace in the tank.
The aim is that the botanicals break down in the water. As they do, they release their goodness, but they don’t last forever. Some leaves will break down to nothing within four weeks, some take four months, while seed pods generally last considerably longer, even a couple of years. If you find the ‘skeleton’ of the leaf unsightly, you can either remove it before adding replacement leaves, or leave it there and build up a layer of leaf litter on top.
Fish that inhabit forested areas will benefit from the tannic and humic acids that are leached from leaves and seed pods