When aquascaping your aquarium, driftwood is one of the best additions you can spring for. It creates an instant natural aesthetic and a focal point for your aquascape.
Driftwood has many benefits for fish, plants, and invertebrates alike and is not hard to obtain, either!
However, with so many types on the market choosing which one can be a bit of a hassle. That’s why I’m breaking down the common types of aquarium driftwood and where to buy them.
Common Types of Aquarium Driftwood
This list is not exhaustive. Driftwood comes in dozens of varieties, including pieces you can pick up for free in nature.
However, these eight are the types you’re most likely to find in a corner pet store or specialty aquarium outlet:
Manzanita tree species (Arctostaphylos sp.) are found across western North America, making them easily accessible, inexpensive choices for your aquarium. People produce Manzanita Driftwood for the pet trade all over the country and you can easily find it online or in pet stores.
If you live in the area, you can even try collecting and treating your own branches, a time consuming but fulfilling project.
Manzanita is one of my favorite aquarium Driftwood types because it’s a dense, incredibly hard wood that won’t visibly decay for years.
Manzanita varies from a medium brown to reddish brown but most of the red is within the bark, which gets sandblasted off before being sold as Driftwood.
As a scrubby dryland tree, it has a growth pattern lower to the ground, with sweeping, curling branches that create a balanced, classic Driftwood look.
While dense, Manzanita still needs to be immersed in water for some time until the pores fill with water and the tree no longer floats. Manzanita is also chemically neutral and won’t alter the pH towards acidity, making it a great choice for any sort of aquarium.
There are also few tannins within to stain the water. In short: Manzanita is the perfect aquarium Driftwood.
Marsh Root Driftwood is more common in Europe but catching on in North America. Marsh Roots are pre-soaked pieces of wood, sometimes collected from nature, that come sealed in plastic bags full of saltwater. The saltwater bath kills any parasites and other undesirables that could otherwise be introduced into your aquarium.
Marsh Root Driftwood tends to be lumpier and less elegant than other types of Driftwood because it usually comes from root and trunk pieces. Often entire stumps with root networks are included, making Marsh Root a showpiece that’s less sprawling and more compact in nature.
Because it’s presoaked, Marsh Root Driftwood will sink immediately; a light rinse to remove any loose debris is all that’s needed. Unless your fish are incredibly sensitive to salt and your tank is small the amount contained within the wood is minimal and not a danger to your fish.
If you do plan on adding it to a tank with sensitive fish or a small volume of water, you’ll want to soak your new Marsh Root for 24 hours first.
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Colophospermum mopane is a sub-Saharan tree from Africa that has a thousand different uses! Locals use the wood for everything from houses to musical instruments.
Mopani wood is also one of the most popular types for the pet trade, though “Driftwood” is a bit of a misnomer since there isn’t a ton of water where it lives.
Mopani Driftwood has a thick yet twisting character reminiscent of a flowing stream, with dark knots scattered along the length. It’s a fine grained wood with all sorts of interesting nooks and crannies for live plants to attach and small fish to hide in.
Mopani also has a unique two-toned color pattern, with the outer side a medium tan and dark chocolate heartwood. This makes it a natural showpiece. It can also resemble a massive tree root when surrounded by live plants.
Mopani does alter water chemistry over time, buffering your pH towards acidity. So long as you either take steps to counteract this or prefer an acid pH, it’s not a tremendous issue. It has large quantities of both tannins and humic acid; even after boiling and a lengthy soak it will still tend to stain your water brown.
On the other hand, this makes Mopani perfect for rainforest aquascapes and biome tanks where this is preferrable!
Redmoor Wood consists of bogwood branches and small root systems. As bogwood, it is full of tannins and will both stain the water and push chemistry towards acidity.
Since the branches are often small, a lengthy boil and soaking process may drive out most of the tannins and humic acid.
While hard, Redmoor Wood tends to be dusty and has a soft outer layer that will often feed fungus and bacteria when first introduced into the aquarium. This is harmless and the microorganisms will eventually consume all of the loose wood and die off.
Redmoor Wood always floats when first purchased, requiring a long soak with weights to drive out all of the air.
Redmoor Wood is a great showpiece for smaller aquariums and accent pieces for larger tanks. It has a twisted, tangling growth pattern and can be small enough to work even in nano aquariums.
A large showpiece such as a single Marsh Root plus several scattered pieces of Redmoor can mimic the crown of a tree, a cypress bog, or a tree root tangle with the right arrangement and plants.
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Cylindropuntia is a group of cacti native to North America with a striking, tree-like growth pattern and vicious spines. When dead and dried, they leave behind an attractive wood that varies depending on the age and species of cactus it originated from.
Cholla creates an especially appearance for aquascapes, with irregularly spaced holes, a twisting structure, and a hollow core for small fish and shrimp to explore.
In my opinion, it’s also one of the most difficult Driftwoods to use well. Most aquarists simply plop Cholla into the middle of a tank and call it finished. It can look something like an alien artifact in an aquascape if not used thoughtfully.
Cholla begs for small plants to fill its pores and for the visibly straight cut edges to be hidden somehow as they detract from a natural appearance.
Placing aquarium moss or butting Cholla wood against rocks or other driftwood help conceal the manufactured surfaces. I’d even go so far as to cut and break up the edges to create the appearance of shattered Driftwood.
Of all the aquarium Driftwood here, Cholla is the fastest to decay, with smaller pieces lasting around a year.
Even larger pieces will eventually soften and decay depending on the age and density of the wood. Cholla will also alter the pH through tannin release.
- Naturally exotic, and twisted jungle wood
- Beautiful, unique, natural tree root
- Great for terrariums and aquariums!
Spider Wood comes from the prepared root masses of several Asian Azaleas (Rhododendron species).
It’s softer than other aquarium Driftwoods, making it a great food source for Panaque and Ancistrus plecos. However, this softness means it decays faster than hardwoods like Manzanita.
Spider Wood often has smaller roots coming off of the main branches however these decay within 6-12 months, leaving a dense core network of Driftwood.
Spider Wood is second only to Bonsai Driftwood in visual impact. Most kinds have a pleasant honey yellow to light chocolate color that glows under intense aquarium lighting and contrasts well with dark substrates, plants, and backgrounds.
Spider Wood also has a graceful branching structure that reaches continually outwards rather than twisting in on itself like Redmoor Wood. These “branches” are perfect for replicating the canopy of a tree and add a three dimensional aspect to your aquascape.
Usually sold dried, Spider Wood takes awhile to absorb enough water to sink properly. It does leach tannins into the water but not as much as Redmoor or other species of Driftwood.
Sumatran Driftwood is aptly named, sourced from dead Indonesian Mangrove tree roots that get pulled up during land development. The roots are cut up, sand blasted, and sold in the aquarium trade.
Sumatran Driftwood is a natural showpiece; these chunks tend to be larger, with a visibly flowing grain and thick roots that offer loads of aquascaping possibilities.
I classify Sumatran Driftwood as somewhere in between Redmoor and Marsh Root in appearance; stumpy and thick yet moderately branching and sometimes even tangled.
The medium to dark brown color works well in most aquascapes.
While common in the pet trade, this is also one of the more expensive Driftwood choices due to the sheer size and weight of Sumatran Driftwood pieces.
It will alter pH and water color through tannin and humic acid release regardless of soak time.
However it is relatively hard wood and very long lasting in aquascapes. Wood eating fish and invertebrates find Sumatran Driftwood particularly appetizing!
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Bonsai Driftwood are relatively new additions to the hobby and offer immense creative potential.
Each Bonsai piece hand crafted, fusing smaller branches with large showpieces of Driftwood to suggest trees, curling roots, and other structures.
Bonsai Driftwood is ideal for Nature and Iwagumi style Aquascapes where Driftwood and plants come together to create tree-like structures.
The main issues with Bonsai Driftwood is that it’s very variable in design; I’d only buy a piece in person or with photos included online.
The type of wood used may also be a concern, with any of the above tree species or others included in the structure. This can have impacts on water chemistry and quality.
That being said, the immense showpiece appeal of Bonsai Driftwood makes it a favorite for aquascapers around the world. Many are even pre-attached to rocks for instant aquascaping!
Where to Buy Aquarium Driftwood
Aquarium Driftwood ranges from free to expensive and can be found from any of the following sources:
Pet and specialty aquarium stores around the world will carry Driftwood for you to choose from.
Many of the wood types listed here are also sold for reptile enclosures, especially Mopani and Cholla. However, if you come across an unfamiliar wood variety, do your research before adding it to your aquarium.
Many woods that are fine in air may leach toxic substances when submerged.
Specialty aquarium stores will usually carry the above Driftwood types, with exotic varieties like dried Willow Branches either for sale or available on request.
Smaller pieces like Cholla and Redmoor are usually sold individually and bulk weight pricing used for chunks of Sumatran and Manzanita Driftwood.
When it comes to diversity, the Internet is the best way to score exactly the piece of Driftwood you need.
Outlets and specialty online aquarium retailers rarely include photos of low priced pieces.
However, showpieces of Bonsai, Marsh Root, and Sumatran Driftwood almost always include photos and dimensions so you know what to expect for the price.
While online Driftwood prices are comparable with or even cheaper than physical storefronts, individual pieces can be both heavy and space consuming.
Which means shipping prices can cost nearly as much as the wood itself. But in terms of variety, the Internet is your best source for quality Driftwood.
Out in Nature
If you live near bogs, lakes, rivers, or even the ocean, Driftwood may be common along the shoreline. Natural pieces are free, often well polished, and extremely attractive.
The major challenges lie in identifying and sterilizing your new Driftwood. Not all tree species are suitable for aquarium use; some species have toxic agents that can kill fish in small enclosures.
Where you source your wood should also be carefully considered. Driftwood can pick up fertilizers, poisons, and runoff from farms and chemical treatment facilities, none of which you want in your aquarium. Runoff from major highways can also be an issue if you think a piece has been in the area for an extended period.
Be aware of the rules of collection in your area as well. You may be technically stealing if on private property. Many national parks also have rules against taking Driftwood (or anything else) from the area.
If you do find a nice piece of Driftwood that’s legal and aquarium safe, boiling it for a few minutes will kill off any microorganisms, parasites, algae, or invertebrate hitchhikers that might cause problems in your tank. Once boiled and soaked, brush it down to remove loose debris and bark before adding it to your aquarium!
Aquarium Driftwood comes in a variety of styles to suit any budget and aesthetic. Any sort of aquarium, from fish only to planted aquascape, benefits from adding a piece or three of Driftwood. If you found this information useful or have other types of wood you prefer, I’d love to hear about your experiences!