Use of Leaves in Aquariums: Part 1

The use of leaves that are safe to use in the aquariums provides a more natural ecosystem and coloration for the fish and shrimps. In this post, we will start with a few of the most popular. These are the ones commonly used in shrimp and fish tanks.

Alder Cones

Black alder trees’ catkins (Alnus glutinosa) are called alder cones. They are found widely in Europe and North America, and Turkey. Due to the variety of benefits they provide, some aquarists consider alder cones the best possible addition to a shrimp tank. They take longer to break than Indian Almond Leaves. Also, they are widely used to reduce the pH and very effective.

Indian Almond or Catappa (Terminalia catappa)

Indian almond tree (Terminalia Catappa) is native to Asia. The Indian almond leaves are a good addition to tanks containing bettas, discus, gouramis, killifish, tetras, Arowana, angelfish, South American dwarf cichlids, corydoras, plecos, and other blackwater habitat fishes. They are also suitable for all kinds of shrimp.


Large herbaceous plants of the genus Musa that produce the fruit banana are called banana trees. They grow in many countries across the world. In the aquarium, the properties of Banana leaves are very similar to Indian Almonds’ and widely used in the shrimp hobby.


Oak is a deciduous tree or shrub in the genus Quercus. It is deciduous and is native to the northern hemisphere. There approximately 600 species of Oak trees exist, but they can be classified mainly as Red Oak and White Oak depending on the general color of their bark. The leaves of both White Oak and Red Oak are good additions to shrimp tanks.

How to Find

All these leaves and Alder cones are available commercially in most aquarium stores and online.

Deciduous trees like Oak shed their leaves annually. You can easily find and collect them from parks, gardens, or wild areas. However, consider the following points when you collect them;

  1. Collect only those leaves or cones which have fallen off naturally and are dry. Greens will promote bacterial growth (harmful to shrimp) when they are introduced in the aquarium due to the presence of chlorophyll, sugars, and other unwanted substances.
  2. The leaves or cones collected from stagnant water bodies may contain unwanted pests and critters that can harm the shrimp. You can boil them in water to remove any pests before introducing the tanks.
  3. You must collect the leaves or cones from a pesticide-free environment. Even minute concentrations of pesticides can be harmful to aquatic creatures especially the shrimps and snails.


  • The leaves of Ash, Banana, Indian Almond, and Oak give a natural look to the aquarium. They also provide plenty of hiding spots which are important to lower the stress levels of shrimp. Alder cones are also helpful in this regard and besides, they also help to reduce the pH level.
  • A multitude of microorganisms settles on these leaves or cones to break them. These micro-organisms will form a biofilm and serve as an alternative food source for shrimps. The newborn shrimp need to feed on these micro-organisms to survive.
  • Some species of snails like Nerite snails and surface-feeding fish like Otocinclus and various Pleco species eat the leaves directly. Larger snails like Mystery snails and Rabbit snails also enjoy munching these leaves.

Benefits Specific to Indian Almond, Banana Leaves and Alder Cones

  • They are good to stimulate the breeding process in some species of shrimps and fish.
  • Indian Almond leaves, Banana leaves, and Alder cones release more tannins and humin than other leaves when they break down. These tannins and humic acids give the water a brownish coloration. This helps mimic the natural habitats of black water species of fish or shrimp. Smaller alder cones release more tannins and humin than the larger ones while both support the growth of biofilm.
  • The tannins and humic acids also reduce the pH of the water mildly. These chemicals have anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, so some aquarists believe that adding these leaves to aquarium helps in preventing infections and diseases in the fishes/shrimp. Some aquarists report that these leaves also help in boosting the fish/shrimp’s overall health and fasten their healing. Many Betta breeders use Indian Almond leaves extensively for healing purposes.
 Adding to the Aquarium
  • You can add the leaves or cones directly to the aquarium but it is important to ensure that they are dry (brown colored) and pesticide-free.
  • 1 leaf per 80 liters aquarium is sufficient. You can add up to 4-6 cones per 80 liters. Excess of tannins can be harmful to shrimp.
  • The leaves float for about 1-5 days (depending on the species) before settling down. They break down in 1-2 months and do not release any waste products while decomposing. In case, the load of livestock is high they can consume the leaves earlier than decomposing. It is also perfectly safe for them to remain in the aquarium after breaking down. Alder cones take longer to break down and can be left in the aquarium even after they run out of tannins as they will continue to provide a surface for biofilm to grow.
How to Add Without Affecting Water Color and pH

Soaking them in water for 2-3 days before adding them to the aquarium will be very useful. Doing this would remove most of the tannins and all their associated helpful properties. You can also add activated carbon to the filter to reduce the tannin concentration and color shade. Also, the leaves can be boiled in for a few minutes for a faster process.

Adding Tannins Without the Leaf Litter

Boil a large number of leaves in hot water and keep them aside for 2-3 days. The water will turn into a dark-brown or blackish color once all the tannins are released. Introduce little amounts of this concentrated stock solution periodically into the aquarium.

Alternatively, you can purchase commercially available filter leaf bags. And then, you can soak the filter bags in the aquarium and can replace them every 2-3 weeks. Also, there are some black water products available in the market. They are prepared by using these kinds of leaves and practical alternatives for use in the aquarium.

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