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What is Bogwood?

Bogwood is wood preserved in a bog due to anaerobic conditions. Usually bogwood is stained brown by organic matter (tannins) present in the bog.

Driftwood is very similar. It is wood submerged in water for many weeks or years usually in a river, stream or pond. Apart from that, it is treated by aquarists as if it is bogwood.

  • Driftwood found by the seashore will be saturated with salt and is usually considered unsuitable for freshwater aquarium use unless a lengthy soaking and rinsing process is carried out to remove the salt.
  • True bogwood is very rarely offered in aquarium shops as it is very expensive. The wood offered are usually pieces of wood that have been dried out in the sun and so may float when first placed in a tank.

The wood becomes waterlogged after many weeks and so will sink in the aquarium. Large pieces with interesting shapes are quite collectible and are often added to aquariums to give them character.

What Bogwood does to the water

The wood will leach out tannins which slowly turn the water brown (this reduces with age). This is harmless and indeed often thought of as beneficial to the animals as it is a mild antibacterial, fungicide agent and the wood provides trace minerals and nutrients for all your animals and plants. These tannins will alter the pH of the water making it more acidic and will soften the water in a similar way that peat does. This can be counter balanced by adding Calcium carbonate like crushed seashells or coral sand. Ensure your tank water has a decent level of KH and this pH effect will be minimal.

  • When adding fresh wood to the tank often a light white coating appears on the wood for a couple of months. This is a harmless fungus and should disappear. Algae eating fish often eat it.

Benefits of Bogwood

  • Provides essential trace minerals for all life in the tank (including plants).[citation needed]
  • Provides hiding places for your animals, so they feel less stressed, and therefore will be healthier.
  • It looks nice.

Types of wood used

True bogwood is hundreds to thousands of years old.

  • Pine. Bog pine is usually a rich red brown colour. Don't place raw pine into your tank. You may harm your aquatic animals. Soak it for 5–8 weeks first.
  • Oak. Bog oak is usually jet black, but occasionally a very dark brown.
  • Yew. Bog yew is the rarest. It ranges from beige to dark brown while other pieces are streaked with red and purple.
  • Mopani wood. Two tone brown. The cutting of this African wood is said to be causing dangers to the African environment due to deforestation. When buying bogwood ask what type of wood it is and decide if you wish to contribute to this problem.

Normally aquarium companies simply pre-treat dry wood by sand blasting the bark off and that is all. Some will pre-dip the wood in water for at least a few weeks or in rare cases collect true bogwood where peat is being collected before selling it in shops.

Aquarium shop 'bogwood' is normally sandblasted Mopani wood and should in fact simply be called driftwood. If in doubt ask the shop on their definition of this term.

  • Other types you can use (hard woods) by collecting and drying thoroughly before using - Maple, Ash, Elm or Hickory.

Sources of Bogwood

Bogs are not easiest places to get to and most people don't collect from the wild due to the trouble of finding a suitable piece of 'wild' bogwood or in the amount of work and time that is required to ensure the bogwood isn't carrying parasites and have the majority of tannins removed.

The usual sources are:

  • The local fish or pet shop will stock all sizes. Note, this wood has been presoaked to leach out most of the tannins and will probably have been sandblasted to remove splinters and loose pieces. It is often sold by weight. So that piece submerged in a tank will cost a lot more than the piece on the shelf.
  • The local garden shop often sells bogwood for making indoor air plants ornaments.
  • Plant shops like Tropica sell some of their plants prefixed to pieces of bogwood.
  • Even a small piece of about 10.2cm (4") long in a 60 Litres (15.9 US G.) tank is enough.
  • Sumatra driftwood is an interesting alternative. With its availability of different sizes and rich array of branches.

Preparing the wood

Do not simply dunk the wood into your tank. Your piece of wood has probably been sitting on a shelf in the shop or in your home for a long time. It may have collected chemical sprays from the air and often will be coated with dust.

Take the wood and rinse it under normal tap water and leave it in a bucket of tap water for several days. If the water turns very dark brown then the wood probably hasn't been pretreated and you'll need to replace the water and re-examine the water every 2 days until it shows signs of lessening. This can take months in a untreated piece.

If it is pretreated it should sink rapidly within a day and will not leak out high levels of tannins. Once you're happy with the way the wood is looking, add to your aquarium.

  • Boiling wood in water for 6-12 hours is a quick alternative to letting it sit soaking in water for weeks. But this is a very smelly and dirty process for most home aquarists. It also destroys any beneficial fungus or bacteria there may have been on it - along with any harmful ones.