Indian almond leaves (IAL) have traditionally been used by Betta breeders in South East Asia to mimic the natural Betta habitat. They are believed to aid the fish in a number of ways, such as helping prevent infection in torn fins and other external damage. Indian Almond Leaves are also known to aid in the induction of spawning in many fish species.
While there is no scientific evidence to support the above theories, a bit of logic should tell you that some benefit should be gleaned from adding hardwood leaves to your aquarium.
Why use Indian Almond Leaves?
Many popular aquarium fish originate from so-called ‘blackwater habitats’. These are bodies of freshwater which have been ‘stained’ brown from the humic substances and tannins released by decaying organic matter, such as leaves. This decaying organic matter alters the water chemistry of these environments by lowering the pH and binding nutrients in the water, which leaves the water with a very low mineral content.
In the case of wild caught or particularly sensitive fish, many experienced hobbyists attempt to mimic a specific species natural environment in order to increase their chances of successfully keeping or even breeding these species.
Fish species, such as; betta’s, gouramis (see: Chocolate Gouramis – A Rare Beauty), various species of tetra, discus, rasbora’s, species of the genus Boraras and many dwarf cichlids will all appreciate the addition of Indian Almond Leaves to your aquarium.
Indian Almond Leaves are not recommended for fish species which originate from habitats that contain hard, alkaline water.
Preventing and Curing Diseases Using Indian Almond Leaves
Indian almond leaves are rich in compounds produced by the Indian Almond Tree to protect itself against bacteria, fungi and similar organisms. Because of this, it has been speculated that adding Indian almond leaves to an aquarium will decrease the risk of disease in the tank. While there is no scientific evidence to support this claim, compounds found in Indian almond leaves have been found to have potential health benefits for the human body.
Alternatively, it is argued that fish kept in an environment that mimics its natural habitat tend to grow stronger and healthier and thus, are at less risk of contracting an infectious disease. Therefore, it is difficult to determine if Indian almond leaves actually cure and prevent disease by killing of bacteria and fungi, or if they just boost the fish’s own immune system.
Bottom dwelling fish love to hide among sunken leaves. The leaves also encourage the growth of microbial organisms, such as infusoria, that bottom dwelling fish can eat. Fish such as Kuhli Loaches will greatly benefit from the addition of Indian Almond leaves for this very reason.
Note, before adding Indian Almond Leaves to your aquarium you must remove active carbon, purigen and similar materials from your filters. These materials will remove the humic substances and tannins from your aquarium.
Dosages below are based on 15-25 cm (6-10 in) leaves. If your leaf is smaller or bigger, you need to adjust the figures accordingly.
Using 2 leaves per 50 L (13 us gallons) of water is a good rule of thumb, but be prepared to adjust the dosage to suit your particular fish. Some Betta keepers routinely use up to 2 leaves per 15 L (4 us gallons) of water in their everyday tanks. Betta breeders normally use 1 leaf per 20 L (5 us gallons) of water in breeding tanks.
In fry rearing tanks, use 1 leaf per 40 L (10 us gallons) of water.
Unless you anchor the leaves using a rock or similar, they will normally float for 2-3 days before sinking.
The leaves will normally disintegrate after a month or two, depending on how actively your fish tries to destroy them. The leaves can be left in the tank to disintegrate completely and do not have to be removed once they start to fall apart.
Indian almond leaves in Fry Tanks
In a fry tank, Indian almond leaves are beneficial in several different ways. In addition to all the positive effects described above, the leaves serve as a breeding ground for infusoria. Due to its size and nutritional content, infusoria is an excellent food source for newly hatched fry from a long row of species.
In addition to this, many species of fry are naturally inclined to hide among leaves and leaf litter and will feel safer and less stressed in a fry tank that isn’t completely barren.
Indian Almond Leaves in Hospital and Quarantine Tanks
Indian Almond Leaves can be added to hospital or quarantine tanks to add in healing and recovery and to reduce stress.
Indian almond leaves in planted tanks
Indian almond leaves can safely be used in planted aquariums. Of course, plants that like alkaline waters won’t appreciate the drop in pH-value. It should also be noted that black water environments are often devoid of aquatic plants.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it true that Indian almond leaves remove heavy metals from the aquarium?
I come across this claim now and then, but I have seen no explanation for exactly how it would work or any scientific studies regarding IAL and heavy metals. Bogwood is commonly used among aquarists to reduce the toxicity of metals; perhaps decaying leaf matter works in a similar way.
When organic matter decays it is able to bind to toxic substances, such as heavy metals. This is useful for hobbyists who have higher than normal leaves of heavy metals in their tap water. Although many commercially available water conditions also remove heavy metals along with chlorine.
Making your own Indian almond leaf concentrate
Another alternative for those who dislike having leaves in the tank is to boil the leaves and make a concentrated Indian almond tea to pour directly into the aquarium water. Simply place the leaves in a pot filled with water and bring to a boil. Boil until the water darkens. The tea can be stored in an airtight bottle in the fridge.
Recipe for a 375 L (100 gallon) aquarium:
15 to 20 leaves (15-25 cm/6-10 in) in 10 L (2.5 gallons) of water
Make sure that the tea must naturally have roughly the same temperature as the aquarium water when you add it.
Note: Do not use Indian almond leaves that are mouldy.