You may have noticed Indian Almond leaves for sale in your local fish or pet store. But why would you want to put leaves in your fish tank? Do dried leaves encourage betta fish to breed? And, would using Indian Almond leaves in your aquarium really have any benefits for your fish?
Read on to find out!
What Are Indian Almond Leaves?
Indian Almond leaves are also called Catappa leaves and come from the tropical Terminalia catappa tree that's found in Africa, Australia, and Asia.
The leaves and bark of the tree contain a variety of chemicals, including flavonoids such as quercetin and kaempferol, some tannins including punicalagin and punicalin, and a whole bunch of phytosterols and saponins.
Many of those chemicals are known to be effective against some parasites and bacteria, specifically Plasmodium.
How Can Indian Almond Leaves Benefit My Fish?
There are thought to be a number of benefits to including Indian Almond leaves in your tank:
Lower Water pH
Sometimes, the mineral content in your water supply can create a high pH level that's not ideal for some species of fish. When that happens, most hobbyists turn to a commercial product that will buffer or lower the pH of the tank.
However, the effect is only short-lived, which means that you have to keep adding more chemicals to the water to keep the pH down. All those chemicals can really stress your fish, so what's the alternative?
You could use remineralized reverse osmosis water or even distilled water, or perhaps try adding a few Indian Almond leaves to your tank.
The leaves gradually lower the pH while they're in the water, helping to boost your fishes' immune system at the same time. Since the Indian Almond leaves gradually release their natural chemical content into the water, there's no sudden change in the pH balance, and the effect tends to last longer, too.
Create A "Blackwater" Environment
The leaves also release tannins that turn the water a transparent brownish color, like tea.
Many species of popular aquarium fish, including some of the tetras, originate in a "blackwater" environment where the water is stained by fallen leaves from the overhead canopy.
Replicating your fishes' natural blackwater biotope is a sure way to help them thrive, which is why many hobbyists use Catappa leaves to recreate that Amazonian rainforest vibe in their aquariums.
Of course, you can use bogwood or driftwood to create a blackwater effect, as these woods leach tannins, too. However, wood doesn't offer the same antibacterial properties as Indian Almond leaves. Also, whereas the tannin content of the leaves is fairly consistent, that's not the case with driftwood.
Sometimes, driftwood produces huge amounts of tannins and lasts for years. Other times, the wood has been so heavily processed that it produces no tannins whatsoever. Also, fungus grows on driftwood. Although that's not harmful to your fish, white jelly-like growths all over your tank decorations are not attractive.
Indian Almond leaves don't grow fungus. The leaves do slowly decay until only the bare leaf skeleton is left. When that happens, you can either remove the skeleton or wait until it disintegrates completely.
Beneficial Flavonoids And Saponins
The flavonoids given off by decomposing Catapalla leaves can help to suppress bacterial activity and also act as "cell cycle inhibitors", promoting healing, acting as anti-inflammatories, antioxidants, and helping to prevent outbreaks of disease.
Saponins are chemicals that can be used to improve the absorption of proteins and other macromolecules into cell membranes. Saponins can also stimulate a healthy immune system, helping to protect your fish against the effects of stress.
If you breed egg-layers in your home tank, you'll know that fungus outbreaks can play havoc with fish eggs, sometimes destroying whole clutches of those precious eggs in only a few short hours.
Well, some of the chemicals released by Indian Almond leaves can help to prevent the formation of fungus, protecting your fishes' eggs and delicate fry. That, along with the beneficial tannins and other chemicals secreted by Catapalla leaves, and their pH lowering qualities, is why I like to add a few to my betta tanks.
Some hobbyists add Indian Almond leaves to a hospital tank to accelerate the healing process in sick fish.
In fact, many home betta fish breeders simply use aquarium salt, Indian Almond leaves, activated carbon, and clean tank water as a treatment for sick fish and report that most mild bacterial conditions can be managed successfully in that way.
If you keep fish or inverts such as Crystal Red shrimp that prefer soft, acidic water, the addition of a few Catappa leaves to a breeding tank can help to create similar water conditions to those that the fish enjoy in their natural habitat, which can encourage spawning.
Food Source For Fish Fry And Shrimp
As Catappa leaves break down, biofilm forms on the leaf surface. That biofilm and decomposing leaf matter offer a valuable source of nutrition for certain fish fry and juvenile shrimp.
Infusoria also proliferate on Catappa leaves, offering a perfect food source of newly hatched fish fry and shrimplets that are too small to cope with commercially produced fry food or powdered fish flakes.
Certain freshwater dwarf shrimp and crayfish species just love grazing on Indian Almond leaves! Often, the shrimp will congregate on the degrading leaf, picking at it constantly until the whole thing disappears completely.
Some shrimp keepers and fish breeders even report higher shrimplet survival rates when they use Indian Almond leaves.
Indian Almond leaves are quite large, and they can offer an excellent hiding place for vulnerable species of very small fish and fry that might otherwise be eaten by their larger tank mates.
The leaves can also be used to create a beautiful, natural-looking leaf litter substrate on the floor of your aquarium that bottom-dwellers and invertebrates can hide in.
Water Conditioning Properties
Catappa leaves are sometimes known as "poor man's water conditioner."
Well, including Indian Almond leaves in the aquarium is known to gradually lower the water pH. Ammonia is converted to less harmful ammonium in those conditions, so the presence of these "magic" leaves is thought to help purify tank water.
However, I strongly recommend that you always use an aquarium water conditioner before adding tap water to your fish tank, and never rely solely on the leaves to keep the water safe for your fish.
It's also thought that the tannins contained in Catappa leaves can help to reduce the toxic effects of heavy metals in the water by binding them up.
Where Can You Buy Indian Almond Leaves?
You can find Indian Almond leaves, sometimes advertised as Catappa leaves, in most good fish stores or online.
I tend to buy my Catappa leaves in bulk, as that works out cheaper, especially if you have a large blackwater aquarium or several spawning tanks.
Indian Almond leaves are excellent for providing natural antibacterial and immune system boosters directly into your aquarium water, immediately benefiting your fish and other tank residents.
These magic leaves can also gradually lower the pH in your tank, be used to create a beautiful blackwater biotope, and provide essential nutrition for shrimp and fish fry.