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Adding leaves to a fish tank.

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This is probably mainly for newer people to the hobby, but I found some cool charts on how leaves affect the water. Firstly leaves are in fact great natural ways of staining the water, changing the pH, and are a good food for shrimps and snails - not to mention it looks very nice for an Amazon or river biotope. Leaves contain tannins which darken the water a kind of tea colour. Leaf collecting is fun for kids and adults alike. It's free as well! I've no idea if anyone else has seen this though, I just want to give some information. (

Leaves of the Mulberry are considered among the best shrimp foods, but are also readily taken by plecos. The green leaves are high in protein and have excellent nutritional value. If used properly they will not modify the water parameters.

Walnut leaves are famous for their very positive effect on the health of fish and shrimp. They can cure bacterial and fungal diseases and reduce stress just like those of Catappa, but will not lower the pH and colour the water to the same extent.

There are several oak species in the UK, ranging from the relatively small-leafed English oak, Quercus robur, to the Turkey oak, Q. cerris, with its palm-sized leaves. They differ in leaf size and shape, but all contain a relatively high level of tannin, which makes them one of the best natural pH reducers. They will also colour the water a medium brown, so they’re not a good choice if you want to keep your water crystal clear. Otherwise the oak leaf is a very easy to find and versatile option.

The Beech has quite thin and small leaves, which usually only give a faint yellowish tinge to the water. It will only slightly reduce the pH. Due to its small size, it is very suitable as leaf litter for a nano or shrimp tank containing species requiring a pH that’s close-to-neutral, such as Cherry shrimp.

Despite being widely used in urban parks due to its tolerance of air pollution, not many would recognise the Hornbeam. Its small leaves can punch over their weight: the acidifying effect is very similar to that of the Catappa leaf. You might need more Hornbeam leaves to achieve the same effect, but based on weight they can equal their Asian counterpart. They will lower the pH very quickly, so be cautious when using Hornbeam leaves, so as not to stress your livestock. The best way to do it is to drop in a couple of leaves (depending on the size of your tank) every day until you reach the desired effect. It will also give the water a nice brown shade, which is an additional bonus if you want to achieve that black water look.
The Silver birch is easily recognisable because of its silver-white bark. It also has small leaves, but won’t alter the pH or the colour of the water. The rigid dry leaves are very slow to decompose, making them an ideal choice if you want to keep your water crystal clear but still use leaf litter for decoration or hiding places.

If you need slightly bigger, but similarly long lasting leaves with only a mild colouring and pH lowering impact then it is worth considering the Hazel. It has thick and rigid leaves, which are usually left alone by algae eaters and shrimp, so can serve as a durable decoration.

Sycamore leaves are one step up in size to Hazel, but have a strong and quick colouring effect. They bleach out quite quickly and the remaining semi-transparent leaf blades will serve as a delicious snail or shrimp food. The pH reducing capability is also short lived, and after the initial sudden drop it will rise again.

The largest leaves of the domestic bunch come from the Plane tree, which
is another “urban warrior” that’s very tolerant of pollution. It is a perfect choice as leaf litter for larger fish tanks, as it only has negligible influence on water colour and acidity.

Hope this helps to any newbies or anyone else wanting to know the effects of leaves in their tank.

Great post, very useful info, thanks.

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Thanks for that

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Rabid Raisin:
Back in May I put 1.95g each of different leaves into 450g yoghurt pots topped with soft tank water, and took a photo 10 days later.

in order of staining;
Alder cones,
Oak leaves
Beech/Sweet Chestnut*
London Plane.

With the Alder cones I could see leaching of tannins within a few moments of covering them with water.

*Sweet Chestnut; I used these because I had some in my pocket, and I would suggest NOT using them as I've found no evidence that anyone else does - hence the red line in the photo as well.
As I only had 1.95 g of S.C. leaves that's why it is an odd quantity!

I've still got the pots so will do a re-check at some point.

Thanks Rabid Raisin. That's really helpful :)


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