Aquarium Driftwood | The Ultimate Guide

Aquarium driftwood is a decorative material, suitable for many aquarium setups. In addition to live plants and rocks, they are great additions to a natural aquascape. A carefully selected piece of driftwood can enhance the look of the tank dramatically. However, it is not just for aesthetics.

Fish can benefit from driftwood in many ways as well. It can provide a hiding place for many fish, aiding in reducing their stress levels.

The structure that the driftwood provides is important for many territorial fish as well. Some fish may establish their own territory near the base of the driftwood.

Some fish, such as plecos, like to chew on the driftwood. It can provide a source of roughage, which will aid in their digestion.

Aquarium Driftwood

Types of Aquarium Driftwood

There are many types of aquarium driftwood that you can use, such as Manzanita driftwood, Malaysian driftwood, Mopani driftwood, and Cholla driftwood. Driftwood from different species of trees may create a completely different look in your aquarium. In addition to the aesthetics, different driftwood have different properties. For example, some driftwood will sink very easily when placed in water, while other may take some time and effort. Some driftwood are known to release a lot of tannins as well. Here’s are some of the best types of aquarium driftwood and their characteristics:

Manzanita driftwood (Arctostaphylos spp) is one of the best aquarium driftwood you can use for many reasons. Manzanita is a perennial shrub or small tree that is native to the western regions of North America.

Manzanita Driftwood

First, it looks great for a natural aquacape design. The manzanita tree grows with many curves and bends, giving it lots of character. They are a naturally forking hardwood. When trying to achieve a natural look in an aquarium, especially nano aquariums, these wood with lots of characters are useful.

Second, they are easy to sink. Manzanita are dense wood, so they are not as buoyant as other types of wood. Therefore, when placed in water, they become saturated faster and sink easier.

Third, they are chemically neutral, so they release few tannins and will not affect the water pH very much. Compared to other types of driftwood, Manzanita will not alter the water parameters very much.

Lastly, Manzanita last a very long time. They are dense wood that take a very long time to decompose. If you want a long-lasting hardscape for your aquarium, this is the driftwood for you. In fact, they are known to be great firewood as well, since they are so dense. When dry, they can burn at high temperatures for a very long time.

When initially placed in an aquarium, Manzanita driftwood may have a lighter shade. However, they will get darker in color over time as the wood gets saturated, giving it a stunning look.

Malaysian Driftwood

Malaysian driftwood (Diospyros Ebonasea) is very popular in the aquarium hobby. The tree, Diospyros Ebonasea, is a perennial plant that produces a dense wood with dark coloration. They are also known as Malaysian Blackwood, and are found in dense forest of Malaysia where they are indigenous to. The root and trunk of the wood is often used as aquarium driftwood. Since they are dense wood, they do sink relatively easily.

They are known to release tannins and lower the pH. When adding Malaysian driftwood for the first time, it is recommended to pre-soak them in a separate container for a few days in order to let the initial tannins release. However, keep in mind that tannins are not always a bad thing. While you may not like the brown coloration in the water, some fish like some tannin in the water.

Malaysian driftwood come in various shapes and sizes, and with many irregularities. It makes this wood ideal for many natural aquacapes. It has a beautiful rugged appearance.

While they are dense wood, they will rot and decompose over time. 

Mopani Driftwood

Mopani driftwood (Colophospermum Mopane) is are awesome for aquariums because they look so unique. They have a curvature that resembles a club. Some describe it as a kidney-shaped wood. The wood is often two-toned, making it a point of interest in many aquariums.

Since this is a dense wood, it will sink relatively easily. However, they are known to release high amounts of tannin, lowering the pH. They occasionally contain some sap as well.

Aquarium Cholla Wood

Cholla wood (Cylindropuntia spp) is harvested from a cacti plant. It is the inner skeleton of the cactus called cholla.

They will not sink right away. They may take 2-3 days for it to sink. However, if you boil it for 5-10 minutes, they will usually sink right away.

These softwood will decompose in the aquarium over time. However, this process will take a couple years or more, depending on the size of the wood.

Cholla wood does produce tannins and lowers the pH of the water. If you wish to maintain a higher pH, be sure to change the aquarium water regularly.

One of the advantages of Cholla wood is that it has lots of holes all over it. This creates a lot of great hiding places for small fish and invertebrates. In particular, many cherry shrimps love Cholla wood because the wood houses lots of bio-film and bacteria. The shrimp would gather around the driftwood in the aquarium to feed on it regularly.

How to Make Aquarium Driftwood Sink

Many driftwood, even the ones that are sold as aquarium driftwood, will float initially when placed in water. A large floating driftwood in an aquarium can be hazardous. If it is caught under the outflow of the aquarium filter, it could potentially damage the glass and other equipment inside the aquarium. In addition, it could be dangerous for the fish as well. Therefore, it is important to make sure the driftwood sinks before placing it in the aquarium.

In order to make the aquarium driftwood sink, it must get saturated. This can be achieved by soaking the driftwood in water for a few days. By securing the driftwood under a weight, such as a rock, it will help saturate the driftwood faster. Submerging the driftwood underwater for a few days is a good way of removing some of the tannins as well. Even if the driftwood sinks, most aquarists prefer to pre-soak their driftwood in order to remove some of the initial tannins. Of course, not all of the tannins will be removed in the few days. Most types of driftwood will continue to release tannins over the course of a few months.

If the aquarium driftwood does not sink after a few days of submerging it underwater, it can be boiled to speed up the process as well. Boiling the driftwood is a good way cleaning the driftwood as well. It will help kill off any disease or pest that may be attached to the driftwood.

Ultimately, if the driftwood does not sink even after boiling it and submerging it underwater for a period of time, you can place it in the aquarium with an attached weight. The wood can be drilled or tied to a piece of weight. Once the driftwood is able to sink on its own, the weight can be removed. For this reason, most aquarists prefer to temporarily tie the driftwood to the weight, rather than to permanently drill the driftwood onto a weight.

Keep in mind that aquarium driftwood can take a long time for it to sink on its own. Some driftwood will sink after a few days, while others take many months to saturate and be able to sink without a weight. This can vary on multiple factors, including the density of the wood, age of the wood, and its ability to release the trapped air.

What Plants Grow on Aquarium Driftwood?

There are many aquarium plants that will grow on driftwood, such as anubias, java fern, and java moss. These aquarium plants are great to pair with driftwood because their root or other plant structure will attach itself to the driftwood. Once established, it can create a very aesthetic natural look.

Growing Anubias on Driftwood

Anubias (Anubias Barteri) are very hardy plants with lush green arrow shaped foliage. The rhizome of the plants can easily attach itself to an aquarium driftwood. They are relatively short plants, only growing to about 11 inches in height. Therefore, they are great for foreground or midground planting.

Growing Java Fern on Driftwood

Java fern (Leptochilus pteropus) is a popular aquarium plant that grow beautiful long leaves. The leaves can come in many different varieties including narrow, needles, windlove, and trident leaves. Some varieties remain under 6 inches in length, but other varieties will grow up to foot in length. It is best to keep this plant in the midground or keep them as background plants. They can grow in low light conditions, and they are easy to take care of. However, keep in mind that they do not grow very fast. It may take a while for it to fully establish itself on a driftwood. Fishing lines or strings can be used to attach them to a driftwood until they are fully anchored by their root system.

Growing Java Moss on Driftwood

Java moss (Taxiphyllum barieri) is another hardy plant that does well in low light environments. However, these plants do not have true roots. Small branches grow out of the stem, and each branch is filled with tiny little leaves. Instead of roots, they absorb nutrients primarily through their leaves. Instead of roots, its rhizoids are used to attach itself to objects such as driftwood. These plants are also slow to grow, especially until they get established. Therefore, fishing line or strings can be used to help attach the plant to a driftwood.

Collecting Driftwood for your Own Aquarium

The driftwood that you add to your aquarium does not always have to be store bought. If you live near a river or beach, you may be able to collect your own driftwood. However, there are a few things to consider when collecting your driftwood for your own aquarium.

Local Regulations

Most local regulations do not restrict collecting dead wood, such as driftwood, in small quantities for personal use. However, this is not always the case. Some local regulations may restrict the collection of wood, especially in protected reserves and other areas. Always check with your state or county for regulatory information.

Safety Concerns

When adding driftwood that you collected into your aquarium, be sure to use caution. It is possible that there are disease and parasites attached to the driftwood. Use precaution and carefully observe the driftwood. In addition, place the driftwood in boiling water for 5-10 minutes to kill off any parasites that may possibly be attached to the driftwood. If it is a larger piece, it may be a good idea to boil it for a longer period of time. This is a good way of releasing some of the tannins in the driftwood as well. Lastly, be sure to cool the driftwood before adding it into the aquarium.