Start small and build up. The acids re­leased will have an ef­fect on your wa­ter pa­ram­e­ters, es­pe­cially in soft wa­ter ar­eas.

Practical Fishkeeping (UK) - - Advice -

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

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