Indian Almond leaves (Terminalia catappa) are one of those homeopathic additives Betta breeders swear by. They are commonly found all over Southeast Asia and India and are imported to many western countries and available in the U.S. To the best of my knowledge, no serious scientific studies have been performed proving that they are at all beneficial to Bettas but they are so frequently used in Betta breeding that it’s safe to say they pose no danger. Whether you choose to use them in your Betta tanks is up to you.
Some of the claims made by Almond leaf enthusiasts make it out to be more of a miracle cure then a beneficial additive and I, being generally skeptical by nature, raise a questioning eyebrow at some of the claims. Still, I admit it is the only thing I add to my Betta aquariums that doesn’t come sound scientific backing.
The primary use for Indian Almond Leaves is to promote spawning. Some Betta breeders are so adamant about the properties of the leaves that to attempt a spawn without them would be recipe for disaster… or at least a recipe for small broods of weak and sickly fry. I admit, I was curious so I matched a male and female together for spawning without the leaves to see what would happen. The female got nice and stripy after a short while and the male flared in a display of masculinity. When the female was released she was chased and beaten on relentlessly and no spawning took place. Ah hah! These two sounded like perfect candidates for a little amore producing Indian Almond Aphrodisiac. I separated them, added leaves to their tanks for two weeks and then repeated the experiment. Wash, rinse, repeat. Same result. A male that put on a show of pompousness followed by beating the scales off of my female. Hmm. Okay, okay, it was hardly a scientific experiment I know. I’m not ready to rule it out though. Should I attempt a spawn again, I will add those leaves, just in case there’s something to it.
Nature’s Antifungal / Antibacterial Medication:
It is also said that the leaves can act as a sort of homeopathic medicine that is very effective against bacterial and fungal infections. This is another reason why breeders love it. The hope is that the addition of Indian Almond leaves to the water will help to cut back on egg-spoiling funguses commonly caused when eggs fall to the tank bottom and bacterial infections that can devastate a brood. Exactly what these chemicals are and how they are produced is up for question but one theory is that the trees produce these chemicals to protect itself against insect predators. Once these leaves are introduced to the water, the chemicals leach out in the form of tannins making their medicating properties available to the fish. Again, I can’t say that there is any truth to this but recently I had a male crowntail showing early signs of a fungus (probably really a rod bacterium) on his anal fin. Because it was so minor, I didn’t treat with any aquarium medication. I increased the frequency of water changes and added part of an Indian Almond leaf. The fungus never progress past the point I first noticed it and disappeared altogether within a week. Was this do to the properties of the Indian Almond leaves, the increased water changes or just the Betta’s own immune system? We’ll never know.
pH and Blackwater Conditions:
Depending who you buy your leaves from, some retailers will claim the leaves lower pH to closely simulate a B. splendens naturally acidic water conditions. Others will claim they won’t effect your pH at all. Personally I think they’re just trying to sell more leaves and are telling you what they think you want to hear. Truthfully, I’m not sure if it affects the pH or not, but I imagine it depends on your existing water conditions. As you know, pH directly effected by the kh or buffering capacity. The more kh the more “buffered” your water is against changes in pH. My water has fairly low kh and a high pH because of steps taken by my local water treatment facility. Adding the leaves to my aquariums didn’t seem to cause any significant change in pH but it’s possible those changes could occur if my buffering capacity was even lower. A simple experiment could be conducted to determine the ability of the leaves to effect pH, but I haven’t gotten around to it. If you have… or want to conduct the experiment please email me the results and we’ll post them here and on the main Nippyfish.net site. It would be pretty cool.
Those are the major three claims made by Indian Almond leaf promoters. There are others uses too including color enhancer, appetite stimulator and water conditioner. They have also been used for years to treat human ailments ranging from headaches to dysentery to leprosy. So without any major proof I will continue to use Indian Almond leaves in my aquariums. Even if none of the claims are true, and I doubt that to be so. I enjoy their fragrant properties when I open the bag full of leaves and even kind of like the tea color my aquarium water turns as the tannins seep out. As long as they are removed before they deteriorate they really don’t seem to cause any harm.
Indian Almond leaves can be purchased online at many Betta breeder sites, on Amazon.com and on Ebay. The recommended amount varies by who you ask but generally one half square inch per half gallon is average. (or half of a medium sized leaf per 5 gallons).