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Importance of Driftwood in Aquariums

| Updated September 26, 2017

Planted freshwater aquariums require natural driftwood for optimum beauty and function. Driftwood enhances water quality and creates a suitable, natural habitat for freshwater fish and ornamental plants. The type, size, color and shape of driftwood should be selected based on the needs of the aquarium's live inhabitants and the growing habits of any plants. While almost all aquariums can benefit from driftwood, it is an especially critical accessory for tanks that are designed to mimic the "blackwater" habitats of the Amazon river.

Aesthetic Use

Few aquarium ornaments offer the rustic charm of natural driftwood. Synthetic aquarium decorations might be brightly colored or elaborate, but driftwood creates a magical and earthy ambiance unsurpassed by any man-made accessory. Driftwood tends to complement vividly colored fish, so aquarists often choose to pair driftwood with tetras, guppies and cichlids. Despite advances in modern manufacturing technology, no synthetic material can match the individuality and intricacy of natural driftwood, whose organic origin contributes to a harmonious environment and creates a successful and visually impressive aquarium.

Anchoring Plants

Live plants are an essential aspect of successful aquascaping and fishkeeping, but plants can be even more temperamental than tropical fish. Some popular aquarium plants, like java moss and java fern, thrive attached to natural logs and stumps. For best results, these plants should be loosely attached to driftwood using fishing line until their roots have fully attached. Driftwood might also include cavities that can anchor plants without the use of fishing line. Over time, plants attached to driftwood can help to create an earthy, aged look. They also provide a multilayer canopy that enables shy and light-sensitive fish to feel more comfortable and safe.

Water Composition

Driftwood contains naturally occurring tannins that will slightly lower the pH of water over time if added to an aquarium without preparation. Many varieties of tropical fish prefer slightly acidic water, so aquarists might take advantage of this feature and use it as a natural method for reducing pH. Additionally, the tannins in driftwood can alter the color of the water to create a "tea-stained" appearance, which is ideal for aquariums that mimic the Amazon's so-called blackwater regions. Aquarists might choose to avoid chemical alterations and discoloration by soaking or boiling driftwood before using it in an aquarium.

Benefits for Fish

Many common varieties of tropical fish require hiding spaces and plants, and driftwood can provide cavern-like shelters. Driftwood allows sensitive fish to enjoy areas with subdued lighting and can help minimize the number of injuries that occur as a result of fights. By enabling a densely planted aquarium, driftwood can also enhance the amount of dissolved oxygen available. The tannins in driftwood are also a healthy way to create the slightly acidic environment many tropical fish require. Driftwood is an essential accessory for maintaining a healthy, viable population of freshwater fish.


While driftwood for reptile habitats can look like an ideal accessory for an aquarium, fishkeepers should only select forms of driftwood that are designed for use in fish tanks. Decorative driftwood is often sprayed with preservatives that can be harmful to fish and plants, and wild-gathered wood often contains mold spores and algae.. Aquarists who keep pH-sensitive fish should test their water frequently after adding driftwood, since a sharp increase in acidity can prove harmful for certain species. To avoid contamination, driftwood should be rinsed before it's added to any tank.