I keep a lot of fish species from soft, black-water habitats. I have visited some of these places in both Africa and South America, and have seen many videos shot by traveling aquarists. The factor in those habitats that is the most obvious, and the least represented in most aquariums, is the amount of decaying organic matter that rests on the bottom of the habitat, be it puddle or stream. I have waded into water netting fish and sunk to my knees in thick piles of leaves, sticks, seed pods and any other organic matter that hits the water and sinks to the bottom. There are plenty of pretty, clear, sand-bottomed, fast running streams in the tropical world, but most of the fish we keep come from the mucky waters.
I started keeping botanicals in my aquariums several years ago. After visiting Peru last year, I have greatly increased the amount of organic debris I put in with my dwarf cichlids, but nowhere near the amount that is in the natural habitat. To match that I would have to fill a 10-gallon tank full from top to bottom with leaves, but I do not think that is wise in such a small volume of water. The bottomlands we were collecting in had ponds with thousands of gallons of water over a thick layer of debris, but the water was still deeper than the layer of leaves. If you tried it in a 75-gallon tank you would want 10-12″ of matter on the bottom with clear water over it. Someday I will have the guts to try that!
This video begins a short series on using botanicals in the aquarium. I will show you leaves, bark, seed pods and other things that I use. I will also introduce you to a great source of exotic botanicals, Tannin Aquatics. I shot this video just after getting a big box of items from Tannin Aquatics, many of which I had not tried before. So far so good. The first episode will show you how I prepare the heavier objects, such as bark, coconut husk and seed pods, before putting them into the tanks.