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What Types of Wood are Aquarium Safe? Freshwater Tank Tips

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When setting up a home aquarium, it is only natural to want to decorate it using the best decorations that suit your style. 

However, there are a few decor items that should always be present in your tank and wood is one of them! 

Wood adds a touch of personality to a fish tank but also provides a great hiding place for your fish. Safe wood to use for this includes bogwood, mopani wood, redmoor wood, somatran wood, marsh wood, azalea wood, and cholla wood.

There are also other options if you’d prefer to use wood from your backyard! Keep reading to learn more about each type of wood and what qualities they would bring to your fish tank! 

Safe Wood to Use in Aquariums


True bogwood is wood that has been fully submerged underwater for years. The aquarium trade used to be full of true bogwood. 

The idea was to take submerged wood from natural waters to recreate aquatic habitats inside aquariums.

However now in stores, it is hard to find true bogwood instead there is modern bogwood. 

Modern bogwood is a variety of weathered and dried wood pieces that are cut to fit into aquariums. 

Some may even be screwed down into a piece of slate. This piece of slate is typically covered with aquarium gravel and used to anchor the bogwood down.

Mopani Wood

Mopani wood has an appearance similar to a club giving it a more unique look. It is sand colored all over with darker markings. 

It is also fairly heavy as it is a dense wood and will sink without any interference. This kind of aquarium wood is pretty common in online and retail stores.

It is recommended to thoroughly cure the wood before adding it to your tank. This is because the mopani wood will release tannins into the water in the aquarium.

This wood is native to South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana.

Redmoor Wood

Redmoor root wood is popular for its appearance. As a tangle of roots that appear as if a small tree has been pulled down. 

This will give the same appearance as tree roots coming from the river bank. The tangle of roots on the redmoor root wood creates a place the fish in your tank will love to explore.

Redmoor root wood adds vibrancy to the tank as it has a red tint color. This is another wood that should be cured before adding it to the tank. 

This is because the redmoor root wood tends to float.

Sumatran Driftwood

Aquascape with driftwood

Sumatran driftwood is pieces of mangrove roots and is harvested from dead mangrove trees during land clearing. 

This driftwood is sandblasted to remove the bark, leaving a smooth surface. It is larger and should be used in bigger freshwater aquariums as a centerpiece.

Sumatran driftwood is not known for discoloring the water or releasing tannins into the water. 

Marsh Root

Marsh root is a very popular driftwood in Europe, sometimes being available in North America. Like true bogwood this wood has been soaked and aged while underwater. 

This is another kind of wood that is used as a centerpiece inside a tank.

Marsh root is much darker in color and is often paired with a lighter-colored substrate in the tank to create a stunning aquascape. 

Marsh roots will also not discolor your tank water or release tannins into the water.

Azalea Root

Oftentimes azalea root is called spider wood. This is because the tangled roots along with their golden brown color give off a resemblance to spiders. 

This kind of root wood provides plenty of hiding places for smaller fish as well as an interesting piece for them to explore and investigate.

Azalea root will need to be cured as it will float at the surface without it. It will also not release tannins into the water or affect the pH levels. 

It may however create a flux in biofilm, and fungal growth,  but not always.

Cholla Wood

Cholla wood is native to the Southwest part of the United States. It is a large upright cactus that will grow up to 13 feet high. 

This cactus is also referred to as the “walking stick”. Like any other typical cactus when it is alive it is prickly and covered in spines.

However, after it has died and has dried out it turns into a hollow wooden tube. This wooden tube is typically tan or brown. 

This wood is also full of holes all over! Which is especially great for smaller tank mates such as shrimp.

Cholla wood is a very popular choice for shrimp tanks! As the holes will provide ample places to hide in as well as explore for your shrimp. 

Cholla wood will also develop a biofilm on the surface that the shrimp will love to feed on.

Cholla wood should be treated before adding it to your tank. This is because it may discolor your water as it is a softwood and will release tannins. T

his wood may also need to be soaked as well to ensure it will sink inside the tank as opposed to floating.

Safe Wood Found in Your Backyard 

There is a wide variety of wood that you can place inside your freshwater tank that you may have in your backyard! 

However, it is important to know which ones are safe. 

The key to picking the wood from your backyard is to choose pieces that are dead and already dried out. This is important as fresh wood is filled with sap. 

Most hobbyists when adding wood from their backyard will peel away the bark on the pieces of wood and place the exposed wood into the tank.

Safe wood from your backyard to add to your tank:

  • Alder
  • Apple
  • Beech
  • Birch
  • Cherry
  • Hawthorn
  • Heather
  • Oak
  • Pear
  • Sycamore

Unsafe Wood to Use in Aquariums

As previously mentioned there is wood that can be added to your tank from your backyard. 

However, there are quite a few to avoid as they can be potentially dangerous to the fish inside your aquarium. 

Some of the wood materials may be safe inside an aquarium only if they were to be in a bog for about 50 years. 

The ones lying around your backyard are not safe for your fish! Some of these woods can even be toxic to your fish and can kill them. 

When picking the wood from your backyard ensures the type of wood is not a potentially harmful piece.

Wood in your backyard to avoid for your freshwater aquarium:

  • Cedar (avoid anything evergreen/coniferous)
  • Cypress
  • Grapevine – this rots very quickly
  • Horse chestnut
  • Lilac – this is poisonous
  • Ivy – this is poisonous
  • Pine
  • Spruce
  • Walnut
  • Yew – this is toxic

The Important of Adding Wood to Your Tank 

There are many benefits to adding natural wood inside your tank. Besides the fact that wood in a tank can recreate an underwater world. 

It can also catch your eye and be an amazing accent to the aquascape of your tank. There are many different looks you can achieve as all wood is different in shape, color, and size.

Besides its eye-catching appeal here are some other great benefits to keeping wood inside your freshwater aquarium:

  • Creates a more natural habitat for your tank mates.
  • They promote algae growth and microbes for your fish to snack on!  Normally algae growth is typically unwanted inside a tank but many fish and bottom dwellers will thrive as they graze on the micro-sized food.
  • It provides a place for your fish to hide and explore around. This not only helps keep your fish feeling safer but can also peak curiosity as they explore the wood!
  • Wood in your tank is great for breeding! Wood can be a place that your egg-laying fish will seek out to spawn. Some fish will even lay eggs directly onto the wood.
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