Last Updated: July 12, 2022 by Flora Gibbins
What should you feed your betta? If you’ve been keeping fish for a while, your first instinct might be to go for traditional plants or insects that cater to popular fish pets.
However, bettas are different from other fish.
And if you’re a new betta keeper, you should do your research before throwing anything in your betta tank if you want to keep your fish happy.
So keep reading to learn more about betta leaves, what you should be feeding your betta, and any other important details.
- What Is the Indian Almond Leaf?
- When Were Indian Almond Leaves First Used for Betta Fish?
- Advantages of Using Indian Almond Leaves for Your Betta Fish
- The Unaesthetic Brown Water
- How to Apply Indian Almond Leaves to a Fish Tank
- What to Do if You’ve Added Too Many Leaves or Extract
- Alternatives to Using Indian Almond Leaves
What Is the Indian Almond Leaf?
The Indian almond leaves you find in pet stores are the naturally fallen leaves of the Terminalia catappa L. tree. The tree itself grows in Africa, Asia, and Australia. And while its dried leaves can be referred to as catappa leaves, a more common name you probably hear is Indian almond leaves.
And while it’s true that the tree is native to other parts of the world, it’s very abundant around the Indian subcontinent. Also, the fruit that grows on the tree is said to taste like almonds, hence the name Indian almond tree.
The leaves themselves dry and fall off the trees twice a year. They also lose their vibrant green color and turn into a brown or orange color.
They’re then picked up by the locals and sold to pet stores to use in aquariums. And make no mistake, the leaves aren’t only used for Betta fish, but also shrimp tanks and other species of fish.
When Were Indian Almond Leaves First Used for Betta Fish?
When Betta fish were first being domesticated around one thousand years ago, people had two objectives in mind when it came to selective breeding. First, they wanted the fish to be more beautiful in terms of bigger fins and tails and brighter and more vibrant colors.
The second goal was to breed the fish to be fighters. Wild betta fish are aggressive by nature, and by selectively breeding the most aggressive ones, they were able to make way for even more aggressive fish, which were used in fighting games and tournaments.
However, these fights were not always taken to death. Instead, they were stopped when there was a clear winner. And after a fight, one or both fish were injured.
So naturally, the owners looked for ways to boost the recovery process. And an obvious course of action was taking inspiration from the natural habitat.
After the leaves dry and fall off, they find their way into the rivers and shallow fresh water where wild bettas live. And people eventually figured out that the leaves were beneficial for the fish in numerous ways.
And for a long time, using catappa leaves was a trade secret of commercial betta fish breeders to improve the color of their fish, stimulate the breeding process, and help more fish fry survive.
But eventually, word got out, and adding Indian almond leaves became general knowledge to pet stores and fish owners.
Advantages of Using Indian Almond Leaves for Your Betta Fish
The primary ingredient of the Indian almond leaf is something called tannins, which is a substance present in both the leaves and the bark of a tree.
Tannins have the healing properties responsible for fighting most of the infections that occur in the tree. In addition, tannins releases crucial enzymes that work as a sort of antibiotic that fights bacteria and fungus.
When Indian almond leaves are dropped in a fishtank, they float on the water at first. After that, they take 3-5 days to fully sink, then they start to break down.
At this point, the leaf will have released most of its tannins, and depending on how many leaves you put in, the water will turn into a yellow or brown color.
Fun Fact: Using organic plants as either decorations or therapeutic plants, many aquarium owners agree that they give their pet fish vigor and vibrance. Visit our post on one plant that betta owners consider a beginner aquatic plant to grow — Betta Bulbs.
Here are the benefits of adding a few leaves to your tank:
1. Adjusts the pH Level of Your Fish Tank
Most of us fill our fishtanks using tap water. However, that water is entirely different from the water in the natural environment of betta fish. Tap water is full of harsh chemicals like chlorine and fluoride, which can upset the fish.
When Indian almond leaves release tannins containing tannic acid, they lowers the pH level of your tank water, which is how bettas prefer their water.
However, keep in mind that one leaf won’t have enough tannic acid to get your tank to the desired pH level if you’re using a bigger tank. So do a quick Google search to find out how many leaves you need for your specific tank size.
2. Mimics the Natural Habitat of Betta Fish
There are a few conditions betta fish need to thrive. For example, you should never put your betta fish in a fishbowl or a tank smaller than five gallons. And if you’re giving your fishes one or more tank mates, you should get a tank that’s at least 15 gallons.
This way, you can give the betta fish enough space to mark its territory and allow it not to be defensive all the time, which reduces its overall stress levels.
Another thing you should do if you want your fish to reach its full potential in terms of size and color is to provide it with its desired environment. And you can easily do that if you add Indian almond leaves. The presence of leaves in the tank and the brown water it provides mimics the natural habitat of the betta fish.
3. Betta Fish Use It as Shelter
Betta fish are very aggressive, which means they feel uneasy and are on the lookout most of the time. And the worst thing you can do to a betta fish is to not provide it with shelter in its tank.
Luckily, Indian almond leaves do that in two ways. The first is the actual leaf itself, which is significantly larger than the betta fish; therefore, the fish can use it for shelter.
The second is darkening the water. The way our aquariums are set up with all the lighting around them, a fish can feel stressed and exposed. And by making the water brown and murky, the fish feels less exposed than it would be in clear water.
Therefore, it will start to stress, even if it is only by itself in the tank. So it’s necessary to provide it with proper sheltering.
4. Medicinal Properties
This is probably the most common reason people start using Indian almond leaves. Every article you read or pet store you visit will tell you about the healing properties of catappa leaves and their leaf litter. And that’s because cattapa leaf litter are very effective at removing infections and bacteria.
They also help the fish heal from fin rot. And if the fish has been in a fight, the leaves help it recover faster.
Catappa leaves also prevent your fish from getting sick in the first place. And the best part is, there are absolutely no chemicals used. It’s all-natural!
5. Betta Fish Use It When Laying Eggs
Traditionally, betta fish lay their eggs in bubble nests when they mate. However, if you don’t want to use a bubble nest, the fish are happy to lay their eggs on the bottom of an Indian almond leaf.
And aside from the health benefits like healing fin rot, Indian almond leaves are great for stimulating breeding.
6. Advantageous for Fish Fry
Indian almond leaves are beneficial to fish fry in multiple ways. First of all, they provide the young and nervous fry with cover from predators.
Instead, they have an instinct that tells them to go somewhere safe.
The other way catappa leaves are great for the fish fry is that the fry actually feeds on it. Or rather, the decomposing remains of it since fish fry isn’t big enough to eat the regular fish food.
And when catappa leaves decompose, microorganisms called infusoria appear to eat the remains. And fish fry feed on infusoria as a transitional phase into eating fish food.
The Unaesthetic Brown Water
Perhaps the only downside to using Indian almond leaves is the brown color and the musty look of the water.
When you buy a fish tank to decorate your house, you probably want clear water that shows off your fish.
However, some have grown to like the natural look of the brown water with the leaves. And if you think about it, it’s a different yet beautiful aesthetic.
How to Apply Indian Almond Leaves to a Fish Tank
There are two ways to add the nutritious parts of Indian almond leaves into your fish tank. But first, after you’ve bought your Indian almond leaves, make sure you soak them in cold water to remove any dirt or grime on the surface. You don’t want that getting in your tank.
Dropping the Leaves Into the Tank
The first and most obvious way is to drop it into the tank directly. As we mentioned before, the leaf will float on top for the first few days before sinking and releasing tannins.
If you don’t like how it looks floating on top, you can weigh it down using a small rock to sink it right away.
However, that may vary depending on the quality of leaves you buy.
Then leave the leaf to decompose completely over the course of two months. Then, remove the leftover veins, and repeat the process.
Using an Indian Almond Leaf Extract
On the other hand, if you’re going for a more minimalistic design for your water tank and don’t want to clutter it using leaves, you can get most of the benefits of catappa leaves without actually having to drop them into your tank by making an extract of these leaves.
To start, you’ll need to boil water and place your catappa leaves in a jar. Then pour the boiling water over the leaf to completely submerge the leaves. Leave it overnight, then remove the leaf from the jar.
There should be some residue at this point, which you can remove using a sifter.
Now store the jar in the fridge, and now you can pour any desired amount of tannins into your tank.
An added advantage of using extract is that the water doesn’t change color as much as it does with dropping a leaf. However, you’ll be missing out on some of the added benefits we discussed earlier in the article.
What to Do if You’ve Added Too Many Leaves or Extract
If your pH levels drop too much, this means you’ve added too much tannins to your water.
To fix it, start by changing around 25% of your tank’s water. Removing more than a quarter in a single go won’t be too great for your fish.
Then add some activated carbon. The activated carbon will gradually remove the tannins until your pH levels go back up. At this point, you can readjust it using the leaves or the extract.
Alternatives to Using Indian Almond Leaves
Tannins isn’t exclusive to Indian almond leaves. In fact, many other dried fruit leaves contain the same nutrients as catappa leaves. So if you want to use leaves but can’t find any catappa, you can use dried banana leaves.
However, you should take care and not throw any fruit leaves in your tank since not all of them offer nutrients, and some are actually harmful to your fish.
And if you want to decorate your tank with something other than leaves but still want the benefits of catappa leaves, there are alternatives such as driftwood. However, it’s advisable that you boil it before throwing it in the tank.
You can also use alder cones, which look like tiny pine cones.
And finally, you can use dried tree bark and twigs. Just make sure you do a Google search to find out which tree bark is okay to use with your fish. Not all tree barks have tannins, and some of them aren’t fish-friendly.
Can Indian Almond Leaves Vary in Quality?
Absolutely. Not all catappa leaves were made equal. The quality of the leaf depends on the light it was exposed to, the substrate, and how it was processed.
The leaves will differ in how much tannins it will release into your tank. For example, one good leaf can release as much tannins as multiple bad leaves.
Should I Boil Almond Leaves?
No, you shouldn’t. This is a mistake many make before dropping leaves into the tank. You might think boiling it will kill any bacteria on the leaf. But the truth is, by boiling the leaf, you’re stripping it of most of the tannins.
Whether you’re dropping Indian almond leaves into your tank or using an extract, your fish will thank you for the added benefits and nutrients.
The tannins helps them heal faster as well as prevent sickness. In addition, there are also some advantages to a young fry that’ll increase their chance of survival.
However, if you don’t have access to Indian almond leaves, some great alternatives get the job done—for example, dried fruit leaves, peat moss, and alder cones.