There are only a few types of aquarium safe wood commonly used in aquascapes, and spiderwood is one of those woods.
Spiderwood, also known as azalea roots or rhododendron roots, is a type of aquarium driftwood popular with aquascapers.
Spiderwoods releases fewer tannins than other aquarium driftwoods (like Mopani), making it ideal for tanks where water clarity is desired.
A decent piece of spiderwood has multiple branches extending in different directions (like spider legs…kind of).
The best pieces are expensive and shipping tends to be pricey too.
More affordable pieces of spiderwood lack multiple branches and often look much smaller in person than they did online.
One of the best places to get spiderwood is your local fish store, where you can handle it and get a sense of how you would position it your tank.
So, once you find your special piece of spiderwood, the question becomes, how to use it in an aquascape?
The rest of this article will show you, step by step, how to setup your own spiderwood aquascape in an 11 gallon cube tank, or a similarly sized aquarium.
For those who enjoy a visual tutorial, I created a video that outlines the 12 steps I used to create a spiderwood aquascape:
And, for those who enjoy a written tutorial, I have outlined the steps I used to create this aquascape below.
Note: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases through links on this page (at no extra cost to you).
Step 1: Place Tank on Sturdy Surface
Select a sturdy surface for your tank to rest on.
I used a bamboo top workbench (holds up to 1500 lbs) to support the weight of this tank and other aquariums in my fish room.
This is often an overlooked step because it seems so simple and obvious.
But, placing your tank on a truly flat surface (use a level) will reduce stress on the silicon seams and help prevent future problems.
Step 2: Place a Leveling Mat Under Your Tank
A leveling mat is simply a piece of thin foam, or similar material, which sits under your tank.
Leveling mats are especially important for rimless tanks because rimless tanks lack the plastic supports and braces that keep “normal” tanks from separating at the seams after prolonged use.
Leveling mats help distribute some of the pressure on the tank’s glass bottom, reducing the chance of stress fractures.
Step 3: Fill Aquarium Filter Bags with Gravel
Aquarium filter bags packed with gravel are perfect for creating hills and elevation in your aquascape.
For this aquascape, I suggest filling two to three large filter bags with some extra gravel or substrate you have on hand (no need to use the fancy stuff).
Arrange your filter bags near a back corner of your tank, but don’t let the bags touch the sides of your tank.
Step 4: Select Your Spiderwood
Choosing the right piece of spiderwood for your aquascape may take some consideration.
Spiderwood is an extremely light wood and does not easily sink, so be careful when selecting large pieces which may take many weeks to become fully waterlogged.
Spiderwood pieces with lots of branches are ideal, but are not easy to find for a decent price.
Ordering Spiderwood online can be hit or miss, but for some aquarists it’s the only option.
Be sure to check you local fish store for spiderwood, sometimes an amazing piece is just sitting on a dusty shelf in the back.
After selecting your ideal piece of wood, place it on top of your aquarium filter bags and get a sense of how you want your spiderwood to sit.
Step 5: Add Seiryu Stone
Seiryu stone is a classic aquascaping rock that complements the spiderwood perfectly.
Select stones that are able to rest on the substrate without tipping over.
Position your stones around, and on top of, the filter bag hill.
Accidentally bumping the side of your aquarium with a large stone can have devastating consequences, so move your hands slowly as you position your stones.
Step 6: Add Light-Colored Gravel or Substrate
I find that light-colored substrate looks exceptional when paired with spiderwood and Seiryu stone, it evokes the feeling of a sand bed, or island habitat.
Natural river stones would also work well for this setup, but for me, I prefer the texture and color of cichlid sand, which brings out the rich brown tones of the spiderwood.
Step 7: Position Spiderwood
Bring back the spiderwood that you selected in Step 4 and place it on top of the hill you created.
Carefully reposition your wood and stones as needed, and try to have as many branches as possible pointing upward.
This is the time to observe your aquascape from all four angles, and determine which side of the tank should face forward.
Step 8: Add Aquatic Plants
Anubias barteri and Java fern are key to helping this aquascape be beginner friendly and low maintenance.
Both these plants possess rhizomes, which means that these plants do not need to be planted in substrate or gravel.
In addition, both anubias and Java fern tolerate low light and a wide range of water conditions.
Both plants appreciate a dose of liquid fertilizer occasionally, but do not require CO2, and rarely require maintenance due to being slow growing.
The complete list of plants used in this aquascape are:
- Java Fern (Microsorum pteropus): Both regular and Windelov varieties.
- Anubias barteri
- Dwarf Water Onion (Zephyranthes candida)
The dwarf water onion used in this aquascape is actually not a true aquatic plant and could easily be replaced with Vallisneria.
Step 9: Cover Your Aquascape With Plastic
This step is crucial for protecting your aquascape from being wrecked by adding water.
I prefer to use a sheet of bubble wrap, but plastic bags also work well.
Step 10: Add Water
Add water slowly.
Aquatic plants have a bad habit of floating to the surface at the slightest disturbance.
Step 11: Add A Filter
While this tank does not yet have fish living in it, installing a filter will help set this tank up for success.
Filters provide an ideal place for nitrifying bacteria to colonize, and these bacteria are key to helping you tank cycle and become safe for fish and other aquatic creatures.
The hang on back filter used for this setup was a small BOXTECH filter.
This filter is not particularly strong but does a decent job at circulating water through the tank.
A medium sized sponge filter would also be a great option for this aquascape.
Step 12: Add A Heater
Unless you live in a tropical climate, I always recommend using a heater for keeping tropical fish.
Many tropical aquarium fish thrive at 78 Fahrenheit, but there are many exceptions so make sure to do the necessary research on the fish species you plan to keep.
The heater used for this tank was a BOXTECH heater with an external temperature control dial (very helpful).
What If Your Spiderwood Floats?
Unlike Malaysian driftwood, and even Mopani wood, spiderwood is notoriously prone to floating to the surface.
In fact, the spiderwood used for this aquascape tutorial would not sink, even after 14 days.
Does Spiderwood Mold?
After being submerged for about a week, spiderwood tends to develop a biofilm that looks like white/clear slime.
This is perfectly normal, and many different aquarium woods experience this “mold” outbreak.
While the slime looks like a type of fungus, bacteria may also play a role in the creation of this bizarre looking substance.
Is aquarium mold harmful to fish?
Fish seem unaffected by the “mold” and some fish (like plecos and other algae eaters) may even eat it.
How to get rid of aquarium mold
The easiest way to get rid of the mold is to wait till it disappears (often within 2 weeks).
Taking the wood out and boiling it again can also work.
Suctioning off pieces of the mold with a syphon also seems to help it disappear faster.
Spiderwood’s main advantages over other aquarium driftwoods are
1) it releases minimal tannins,
2) its multiple branches create a unique look, and
3) it is widely available.
As for disadvantages, spiderwood’s main drawback is its tendency to float to the surface, even after being soaked for multiple days, or even weeks.
So, before setting up your aquascape, do yourself a favor and boil your spiderwood and then soak it in a bucket or tank for a couple weeks before placing it in your new aquascape.
If you want to learn about other types of aquascapes, check out my articles on a 5 gallon cave aquascape and aquascaping a betta bowl.
Also check out my guide to planted aquariums if you are new to keeping live plants in fish tanks.
As always, stay zen.