Driftwood, Saggitaria, blue quartz sand

The Benefits of Driftwood and a Few Considerations

Driftwood is a permanent hardscape that slowly transitions into water particles. Just like dead wood slowly dissolves on the forest floor, hardwoods wash away in many fish tanks, ponds, rivers, and lakes around the world.

Wood sits well on the bottom of the tank. A handful of species are great additions to striking aquascenery. Be it as a centerpiece or a subtly added surface for moss to creep upon, it enriches an aquarium within, and without.

In less poetic terms, driftwood directly benefits the aesthetics of the tank, and the overall health of livestock by providing hiding places, food, and an immune system booster. Driftwood houses beneficial bacteria and certain plant species. It could lower the pH, too.

Driftwood has many benefits, but its visual impact often is the main deciding factor. The eye of the beholder judges and the hand of the beholder reaches for the purse.

Or not.


Let’s be real here.

If the sight of a log underwater, partially covered in moss (with a spot of algae) repulsed you, no word about the other benefits of driftwood would sway you to buy one. There are more than enough hardscape options and plants to create with none of the drawbacks of putting decaying matter in your tank.

The truth is that driftwood adds a lot of the right aesthetics. You can put a hardwood like Mopani wood or Bogwood or even an oak log when setting up a new aquarium. Scape around it to underline its unique shape. Then take a picture because a few years down the road this driftwood might have become a significant but unrecognizable part of your tank. Extremities washed away, the bulk obscured by a handful of glorious Annubiai attached to the trunk that they call home.

Impressive, still, harmonious.

You get it.

Good driftwood looks great and smells great. Even if you aren’t a fish.

Because fish fuckin’ love the smell of driftwood.

Let’s take a better look at how driftwood benefits fish. Its subtlety is surpassed only by its relentlessness. Water nourishes and washes away the top layer of the driftwood at all times, ceaselessly releasing tannins.

Driftwood Benefits for Fish and Plants

Most species love driftwood. Fish, shrimps, snails, and plants benefit from its presence in various forms:

  • Place to hide
  • Additional food source
  • Immune system benefits
  • Plants use driftwood for anchoring

Hiding Places

Driftwood comes in many shapes and forms, and it usually provides extra living space for shier fish. Even if its bulk is relatively small, digging a cave in the substrate underneath allows fish and shrimp to chill in the safe driftwood haven.

My loach spends most of its time under the main driftwood I have.

Root-like species like Sumatran driftwood radiate hiding spots.

Fry finds many hiding places in and around driftwood.

Food Source

Driftwood is edible, if you have the mouth for it. Plecos are known driftwood munchers, and shrimps love to pick up food upon it. Usually, the biofilm that grows on it does it for shrimps.

My ottos love sucking the hell out of the two branches in the community tank.

Fish Health Benefits

Driftwood, just like any other decaying part of a tree, releases tannins. Uncured driftwood may release a lot of tannins and discolor the water, but a quick boil will stifle the most aggressive tannin explosion. Even with boiling, the wood will continue releasing its tannic acids at a slower rate

Unless your driftwood is massive compared to the total volume of your tank, the tannins and their impact on water quality (more on that in a second) will be felt mostly around the trunks themselves. All the same, fish in close proximity to driftwood will benefit.

The benefits tannins bring to your aquatic pets include:

  • Improve immune system — Since tannins exude antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, they help fish and other invertebrates stay healthy.
  • Tannins help shrimp — Tannins of all kinds, from leaves, cones, or pods — promote healthy metabolism in shrimp.

And that’s not all.

Reproductive Stimulation

Driftwood can help fish breeding. It provides a unique combo of appropriate hiding spaces for shy couples and their fry and the aforementioned tannin releases. Tannins aid certain species to higher pregnancy and survivability rates.

Anchoring Plants

Driftwood, just like any other hardscape, is great for plants that thrive anchored but not buried in the substrate. Annubias is probably the most popular species in this category.

You can stick plants to the driftwood using instant glue (outside the water column, on dry wood) or you can press part of its roots under the log. There are several ways to anchor plants properly, and driftwood features in most of them.

Of course, driftwood is a great surface for creepers like moss to spread and establish their kingdoms.

Driftwood and Water Chemistry — Understanding the Impact

We often talk about inert and active substrates, but driftwood is an active hardscape addition to the tank. While nowhere near as potent as enriched substrates, driftwood usually outlives aqua soils by a few years. It breaks down slowly, its presence subtly molding the surrounding area and fish behavior.

Driftwood, through its tannic acid release, makes the water more acidic, i.e. it lowers the pH. Before hitting panic stations, though, you should understand that the impact from cured driftwood is minimal. Unless the wooden piece fills up more than half of the tank volume, it won’t lower the pH noticeably.

Most fish from South America prefer a more acidic water column.

Of course, it is always best to test your water. If it is extremely soft, to begin with, a medium-sized driftwood may lower its pH more than desired.

Uncured logs release much more tannins and their impact is proportionately greater. They are a perfect fit for brackish water aquariums or for species that like it on the acidic side. Some people simply like the yellowish look uncured driftwood could produce. Indeed, the high tannin concentration multiplies the benefits discussed above. It helps the reproduction of certain species and promotes healthier immune systems throughout.

However, high tannin concentration will not only lower the pH, it will also soften the water. It may be too much for snails and other crustacens to bear as they need minerals to maintain their shells.

Regardless of whether your driftwood is cured or not, it will provide surface for beneficial bacteria to establish their colonies. Their metabolism is, essentially, a natural filtration that breaks down ammonia into more harmless substances, keeping the water column safe for your fish.

Isn’t driftwood just wonderful?

It certainly is, but it does come with a few minor considerations.

Driftwood Risks

Properly cured driftwood is safe to use in any aquarium.

As a precaution, I always boil newly bought logs. It is in line with quarantine procedures and gives me peace of mind with minimal effort.

Now, never buy driftwood for reptiles or insects, as they are likely to have undergone different treatment that makes them dangerous for fish.

In a similar vein, be very careful when collecting driftwood. While a thorough curing process will kill all dangerous microorganisms it may host, the location it came from may have rendered it unsuitable for fish tanks.

A distinct risk related to handpicked driftwood is the possibility of pesticide infusion. That’s why it’s better to look for driftwood away from cultivated land. On average, an oak branch found a couple of miles into the forest would be safer to cure than one picked up two meters away from the edge of a wheat field.

Modern agriculture uses a ton of chemicals for improved growth and reduced risk of illness or pests, so look for driftwood away from cultivated fields and orchards.

Another important point to consider is to never use living plants. They have saps that can be dangerous for water chemistry. More importantly, living plants contain nitrogen that will transform into toxic ammonia. Pick up only well-dried pieces of wood or dry them yourself before introducing them to the aquarium.

How Long Does Driftwood Last in an Aquarium?

The longevity of driftwood depends mostly on its species, but the conditions in the water column also play their part. A stronger current and higher temperature will erode it faster than low flow in cold water.

Other factors also come into play, but on average well-cured driftwood lasts around five years.

Here you should consider at what point it becomes “useless”. If it morphs into the substrate, it never stops serving its purpose. If it’s the centerpiece of the tank and half of it is gone, probably changing it is in order.

Aquarium-safe Driftwood Is Beneficial

The benefits of driftwood are numerous. It is great for aesthetic purposes, but it is also a natural thing to add to your ecosystem. Most aquatic habitats have driftwood. Fish, shrimp, and beneficial bacteria love it.

There are a few risks associated with procuring driftwood from mother nature, but other than that, it is a safe, beneficial, contributing member to any aquarium.

Adding one to the tank is a no-brainer.

Similar Posts


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *