Our Favorite Botanical: The Jungle Pod

At Betta Botanicals, Sterculia pods are our favorite botanical. They are durable, fish love them, and they are just plain cool! If you are ready to break away from Catappa leaves and try a truly unique botanical, look no further! Today, we’re learning more about Sterculia pods and why these wonders of nature are a MUST-HAVE for your botanical and blackwater aquariums!


What are Sterculia Pods?

Sterculia pods come from Sterculia foetida, a tropical deciduous tree commonly known as the Java Olive. Java Olives are native to Asia and the Pacific Islands and have spread to the US (including Hawaii) and East-Central Africa. In habitats where the Java Olive grows wild, many parts of the tree are harvested for use in native foods and medicines. Did you know some cultures believe that a Monstrous Spirit or Ghost inhabits the Java Olive tree? This has caused many of them to be cut down in cities and towns.

Although popular as a food source, damaged sections of the tree smell like sewage. Because of this, an additional name for Sterculia foetida is the Skunk Tree!

While fresh, the pods are bright red and protect an oblong, cacao-like seed. Dried Sterculia pods have a tough, woody texture, allowing them to last in your tank for a long time. When shopping for Sterculia pods online, you might find them by their trade name, Jungle Pods.

Aquarium botanicals like our sterculia pods for bettas by Betta Botanicals.
Sterculia Pods for botanical aquariums.


How can I use Sterculia Pods in my Aquarium?

Sterculia pods have a variety of uses in your botanical aquarium! Like many botanicals, they add tannins to aquarium and cultivate supplemental nutrition (like biofilms!) for your clean up crew. Due to their cave-like structure, Sterculia pods create hiding spots for your aquarium inhabitants. Shrimp, snails, and fish alike seek out the pods for refuge!


A sterculia pod with a betta hendra hiding inside by Betta Botanicals.
Betta hendra inside a sterculia pod.


Are Caves Beneficial to Betta Fish?

Imagine coming home after a long day of work to an empty apartment. This means no couch or chairs for you to rest on and no bed to sleep in. That sounds uncomfortable! For a betta in an empty tank, it’s the same feeling! We know that the health and wellness of your fish are always at the top of your mind, that’s why we recommend caves and hides for your bettas (and other aquarium inhabitants).

Why You Should Provide Betta Fish with Caves

Wild-type bettas come from dark, leaf-litter-filled paddies and vernal pools, where their dark-colored scales help them camouflage. Whether you are keeping domestic or wild bettas, providing hides (or hiding places) is a must! Hides mimic your betta’s natural habitat and help maintain a stress-free environment for your fish. If you are setting up a breeding tank, caves and hides create a space for breeding. Aquarium hides can come in many forms, from hardscape (rocks and wood) to plants and botanicals. Make sure to provide plenty of these resting spaces to give your fish a chance to choose its favorite spots!

How do Cave-Spawning Bettas Utilize Botanicals?

Some species of bettas need caves to breed. While some bettas mouth-brood, or hold the eggs in their mouth, other bettas build bubble nests.

A good betta breeding cave will provide structure for a bubble nest and offer enough space for the breeding pair to hide. Sterculia pods are one of the largest botanicals we sell, which is why we recommend them for betta breeders. Bettas aren't the only cave-spawning fish! Other fish that need caves to breed include Kribensis and Apistogrammas.

A sterculia pod with a corydoras catfish hiding inside by Betta Botanicals.
Corydoras inside a Sterculia Pod.


How to Make a Cave for Your Bettas

Some fishkeepers plan caves for their fish during the aquascaping process. While placing the hardscape in the empty tank, they can establish natural caves between rocks and driftwood. If your tank is already up and running, moving your decor around or adding botanicals is an easy way to create resting spots for your fish!

Natural Alternatives to Betta Logs

Ceramic and plastic betta logs and tubes are popular tank decorations in the hobby. Betta logs are decorated to look like pieces of hollow wood and float near the water’s surface to create a resting place for your betta. While fish keepers love betta logs, we love providing natural solutions. We have seen many people take a suction cup, using some super glue, and attach it to a sterculia pod to create a natural betta cave at the water surface.

At Betta Botanicals, we are always searching for natural alternatives to common tank decorations! If you’re like us, check out these natural betta log alternatives:

Can Sterculia Pods be Used in my Aquarium if it is not a Blackwater Aquarium?

Blackwater and Botanical Method aquariums share similar characteristics – they have dark, tannin-rich water, and botanical substrates. Bettas live well in both environments. Commonly, the difference between the two styles comes down to water chemistry. Blackwater aquariums frequently aim for specific pH and water hardness (GH & KH readings). Botanical method aquariums allow the ecosystem and water chemistry to establish itself as it will.

Whether you are setting up a blackwater aquarium, botanical method aquarium, or aquariums with rainbow gravel, Sterculia pods are a staple botanical you should utilize. Check out this more in depth discussion on blackwater vs. botanical method aquariums to learn more.

Aquarium botanicals in a blackwater betta aquarium by Betta Botanicals.
A botanical method aquarium with aquarium botanicals.


Sterculia Pods are one of the Best Aquarium Botanicals

Botanicals are both you and your aquarium's best friend. From adding beneficial tannins and growing supplemental nutrition like biofilms, to providing a space to rest, Sterculia pods are our favorite botanical! We recommend these to every betta keeper. Are you ready to dive into the world of botanical aquariums? Betta Botanicals is proud to offer everything you need to set up your very own botanical method aquarium at home! Purchase Sterculia pods on their own or get them as a part of our Betta Botanicals Starter Pack!


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


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