Top 5 Aquarium Botanicals for Beginners!

Aquarium botanicals for beginners like Magnolia leaves, monkey pots, betta tea, bamboo leaves, and alder cones by Betta Botanicals.
Corydoras catfish in a botanical method aquarium.


A Quick Guide on Aquarium Botanicals for Beginners

Whether you’re new to fishkeeping or have been in the hobby for a while, you’ve likely heard of botanical method and blackwater aquariums. These unique aquariums achieve their signature “tea-stained” appearance through the addition of botanicals – dried plant parts and natural materials that release tannins into the water. Interested in starting a botanical method or blackwater aquarium of your own, but unsure where to start? Here are our top 5 aquarium botanicals for beginners.


What Are Aquarium Botanicals?

Botanicals are natural materials that include the dried parts of most plants. Aquarium botanicals commonly include seeds and seed pods, cones, leaves, twigs, and bark!

Habrosus corydoras in a pile of beginner aquarium botanicals by Betta Botanicals.

Corydoras on decomposing loquat leaves.


Will Aquarium Botanicals really Benefit my Aquarium?

Botanicals release tannins, healthy compounds found in plant matter, to give the water its golden glow. Tannins are one of the benefits of botanical method and blackwater aquariums!

Fish can be susceptible to fungal, bacterial, and viral illnesses caused by different stressors in their environment. In an aquarium setting, tannins have antimicrobial and antifungal properties that can help prevent fish from getting sick. If your fish is already ill, adding tannins to the hospital tank can promote healing and help your fish recover alongside the use of medications.

Tannins are naturally acidic, so they can be useful if you need to soften or lower the pH of your water. Bettas love soft, slightly acidic water, so tannins are a perfect match for a betta tank. Remember that different fish require different water conditions, so make sure you do plenty of research!

Depending on your water chemistry, tannins will have slightly different effects. If your water has a higher general or carbonate hardness, pH is less likely to be affected by adding tannins. You can check the hardness of your water using a water test kit. Look for gH and kH on your water test strips.

Beginner aquarium botanicals inside a fish tank by Betta Botanicals, for blackwater aquariums, betta biotopes, and botanical method aquariums.

A botanical method aquarium with tiger barbs.


What are the Benefits of Aquarium Botanicals for Beginners?!

Tannins (or Tannic Acid) can be just as healthy for people as they are for fish! According to a study published by the National Library of Medicine, tannins in tannin-rich foods and drinks such as tea are considered to be antimicrobial, anticarcinogenic, and antimutagenic. Science shows that tannins have the potential to prevent incidences of cancer and cell damage in humans! Please know that the botanicals we stock, including botanical tea bags, are NOT for human consumption! Botanicals additionally help to build the ecosystem of an aquarium, benefiting the fish in the habitat enrichment they provide. Utilizing botanical elements can be done by anyone, and they are not exclusive to an aesthetic. Please remember that if you use rainbow gravel and fake plants you can still 100% use these natural aquarium materials. 

Top 5 Aquarium Botanicals for Beginners

Now that we’ve covered the botanical basics, let’s discuss the best aquarium botanicals for beginners! These botanicals are incredibly durable and produce medium levels of tannins, some with low levels of biofilm, giving you the best of both worlds.

Our #1 Aquarium Botanical is Monkey Pots

Monkey pots by Betta Botanicals, for betta fish tanks, blackwater aquariums, and biotope aquariums.
Monkey pot in a botanical method aquarium for neon tetras.

Meet the Monkey Pot, a favorite here at Betta Botanicals! Monkey pots come from Lecythis Pisonis, also known as the Monkey Pot Tree or Brazil Nut tree. The monkey pot tree is a medium-sized tree native to South America and originating in Brazil. This unusual tree gets its name from the fruits and woody seed pods (similar in appearance to coconuts) it produces – which monkeys enjoy digging into for the nutrient-rich seeds.


Known for their versatility across the -arium hobby, monkey pots provide great hides for your aquarium inhabitants. Most fish prefer some form of hide or cave to rest in and de-stress. Yes, being a fish can be stressful! Monkey pots naturally mimic the cave shape, making them the perfect addition if your tank doesn’t have a lot of hiding places. Additionally, monkey pots can provide supplemental food for your aquatic inverts – from the biofilms they grow to the selenium naturally present in their tannins.

Fun Fact!

Did you know that the monkey pot contains fruit or nuts similar to Brazil nuts? In Brazil, the oil from the monkey pot fruit is processed and turned into soap, as well as burnt as a source of light!

Our #2 Aquarium Botanical is Magnolia Leaves

Magnolia leaves for blackwater aquariums by Betta Botanicals, for botanical aquariums, betta fish tanks.

A magnolia leaf in a blackwater aquarium for endlers.

Magnolia Grandiflora, the Southern Magnolia, is a broadleaf evergreen tree native to the Southeastern USA in habitats ranging from Virginia to Florida. The magnolia tree produces large, highly-scented white flowers in the summer months that are a favorite among Southern gardeners.


These interesting leaves break down slowly in your aquarium due to their durable nature. As the waxy, leathery coating disappears, it leaves behind a delicate leaf “skeleton” which adds complexity to any aquascape! Magnolia leaves are a great option if you are looking for a high-tannin, high-interest botanical for your home aquarium.

Fun Fact!

Magnolia trees are one of the oldest varieties of trees in the world! No wonder their reputation precedes them!

Our #3 Aquarium Botanical is Alder Cones

Alder cones in a botanical method aquarium for beginners by Betta Botanicals, aquarium botanicals for beginners, for betta aquariums.

Alder cones in a North American biotope aquarium.

While there are different varieties of Alder trees, we source our beloved Alder Cones from the Red Alder, Alnus Rubra. This broadleaf deciduous tree is often available in the nursery trade and is native to the northwestern USA. We hand-pick our alder cones here in the Pacific Northwest to ensure quality and safety. The Red Alder usually grows 40-50 feet tall, but record trees have grown over 100 feet!


At Betta Botanicals, we love Alder Cones as tannin bombs. These little guys pack a big punch! Not only do they add detail and complexity to your tank, they release medium to high levels of tannins to help you quickly achieve that tea-stained effect.

Fun Fact!

In Latin, Rubra means red. Due to the orange color of the inner bark, when this tree gets injured, wounds turn bright red. To say the least, it can look spooky!

Our #4 Aquarium Botanical is Bamboo Leaves

Bamboo leaves for beginners in a botanical style aquarium by Betta Botanicals.

Bamboo leaves in a botanical aquarium for our domestic betta, Pi.

Now found around the globe, bamboo plants are native to Asia and the Pacific islands. Our bamboo leaves are hand-collected from naturally fallen leaves, and are hand-washed and dried by our suppliers. These light yellow leaves last a long time in your home aquarium (if they aren’t eaten by your inverts first!).


At Betta Botanicals, we love bamboo leaves for shrimp and aquatic invert tanks! Bamboo leaves and shoots are rich in nutrients and minerals, making them healthy for humans and shrimp alike! Depending on how the leaves are harvested, they can contain critical iron, calcium, and amino acids that inverts use to grow healthy exoskeletons. If you’re setting up a shrimp tank or planning to add them to an established ecosystem, check out our bamboo leaves! Some leaves benefit shrimp more than ours, our blog post on shrimp safe leaf litter is a great place to learn more.

Fun Fact!

Bamboo is growing increasingly popular in the textile and architectural industries as an alternative to less-sustainable options like plastic.

Our #5 Aquarium Botanical is our Betta Tea - Blackwater Tea Bags

Betta Tea for beginners by Betta Botanicals, for botanical and blackwater aquariums.

Betta Tea for replenishing tannins back into an aquarium.

Discover the newest addition to the Betta Botanicals collection – Betta tea! Okay, we admit that this last “botanical” isn’t really a botanical but a specially-curated blend of botanicals crafted to add rich, red-brown tannins to your ecosystems. #TanninBae has been hard at work developing these tea bags to re-tint your aquarium without adding additional botanicals to your scape!


The tannins released from the Betta Tea bags provide a unique aesthetic to your aquarium. Depending on the temperature and steeping method, your tannins will be slightly different colors. Betta Tea contains a blend of aquarium botanicals specifically used by betta breeders to both condition and help aid in disease recovery.

Fun Fact!

While this product is #TanninBaeApproved, we don’t recommend it for human consumption. Don’t drink the fish tea! You can also learn how to used brewed tea for aquariums in our latest blog post.

How to Prepare Aquarium Botanicals for Beginners

Aquarium botanicals for beginners being prepared on the stove top by Betta Botanicals.
Aquarium botanicals being prepared for use in an aquarium.

What do I need to consider before using aquarium botanicals?

Botanicals can come from any plant, and not all of those plants or plant parts are safe for your home aquarium. However, we take great care to ensure that all of the aquarium botanicals we stock are safe for your aquatic inhabitants – fish, shrimp, snails, and more!

When it comes to botanical safety, preparation is key. Sometimes, contaminants like dust or bird shit can be left on your aquarium botanicals from the harvesting or shipping process. That’s why we have a simple method to prep your botanicals for aquarium use.

Boil. Drain. Strain. Soak

Our botanical preparation method includes a few simple steps! First, rinse your botanicals under tap water for 60 seconds and boil them for 5 minutes. Tap water is fine for this step. After the first boil, discard the leftover water. Next, boil (or soak) your botanicals in dechlorinated water to make them waterlogged and fish-safe. You can use your favorite dechlorinator to prep your botanicals, and this second batch of water is safe for aquarium use!

Additionally, remember to add your botanicals a little at a time instead of all at once. If you have any questions about our preparation method, please check out our page on preparing aquarium botanicals!

The Best Aquarium Botanicals for Beginners like You!

Not only do aquarium botanicals provide potential health benefits for your fish, but they also mimic their natural habitats! While the tannin-rich aesthetic isn’t for everyone, at Betta Botanicals we want to help you bring a little slice of nature into your home. If you’re ready to explore the world of botanical method and blackwater aquariums, we are happy to support you every step of the way. Explore our collection of aquarium botanicals for beginners (including the botanicals mentioned in this blog)!

Good luck and happy fishkeeping!

Written by Clare Mangan, @The.Grumpy.Betta with edits from #TanninBae Himself 


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