There is a plant that Betta fish enthusiasts have fallen in love with. It is sometimes referred to as the miracle leaf with breeders across the globe claiming its usefulness in creating spawns and citing wondrous healing properties. It is the Indian almond leaf (Terminalia catappa), sometimes referred to as IAL. This plant is said to be responsible for healing fungal infections, lowering pH, and treating water hardness (kH). Although the claims are great and vast, like many parts of the Betta fish care trade, the Indian almond leaf has little scientific research done on all of the claims of its beneficial properties.
Indian almond leaves are popularly used in Thailand for Betta fish. There are many kinds that can have varying effects on a fish’s environment with consideration to a variety of factors. The natural tannins produced by the leaf in water are said to be the source of the plant’s medicinal and general beneficial properties. While that is true in a sense, placing a connection to all the claims of benefit onto tannins is simplified at best and false at worst. Many plants release tannins when soaked in water, creating a yellowish-brown look to the water similar to tea. However, not all plants are beneficial to the Betta fish living environment and so tannins cannot be solely referred to when citing Indian almond leaf benefits.
|T. catappa growing on farmland. Image from Wikipedia|
The various varieties of Indian almond leaves have different components that can affect water in a range of ways. One strain, for example, called Ficus benjamina was studied in 2009 and was found to have “a newly identified triterpenic acid exhibited significant antimicrobial activity against Salmonella typhimurium, Candida albicans, Staphylococcus aureus, and Escherichia coli, as well as low activity against Aspergillus niger and Aspergillus brassicola” (AllNaturalPetCare). This strain specifically carried the unique triterpenic acid, which is not found in other species of Indian almond leaf.
Thus, not all Indian almond leaves are equal in what they do for beta fish. The T. catappa species of the plant is one of the more popular ones and has been found to contain both anti-inflammatory and anti-parasite properties. In fact this species of Indian almond leaf has been proven to even provide immune support in humans, helping carriers of HIV. While it has been cited by breeders to help with everything from creating vibrant colors in Betta fish to increasing spawning activity, the Indian almond leaf is not a magical cure-all plant to used for every situation.
A 2008 study by KKU Veterinary Journal in North America focused on certain benefits breeders in Thailand claimed were due to the Indian almond leaf. It specifically looked to evaluate the antibacterial activity of water extract from dried Indian almond leaves and its toxicity in ornamental fish. It used three species of ornamental fish over 14 days: guppy fish (Poecilia reticulate), fancy carp (Cyprinus carpio), and Siamese fighting fish (Betta splendens). The study also measured alkalinity, hardness, ammonium, and nitrite.
|A fish tank rich with tannins from leaves. Photo by Practical Fish Keeping Magazine|
It was found that the Indian almond leaf did in fact prove to be beneficial for antibacterial purposes and that “as natural products, the extracts may overcome the problems of chemical residues and antibiotic resistances in fish cultures” (Chansue 2008). The study found that the Indian almond leaves performed best if applied for three days.
Other studies have shown Indian almond leaves to inhibit fungal growth, making them helpful in combating fungal diseases.
To apply Indian almond leaves to an aquarium, the plant should be cleaned. However, boiling the leaves will not be beneficial because while boiling may help sterilize it also removes the beneficial components. It is perfectly fine to simply add dried leaves to a Betta fish tank so long as there are no known pesticides or harmful ailments on them. The Indian almond leaves will float at the surface of the water, sinking after a few hours or days.
While there are no studies for each claim attached to this beloved leaf, Indian almond leafs can promote benefits when added to a Betta fish tank. They can be purchased from a variety of online sellers in many forms, some even coming in tea bags. This plant may not have all its rumors completely researched but it certainly does have beneficial properties that will only do good for a Betta fish tank.
CHANSUE, N., ASSAWAWONGKASEM, N.. The in vitro Antibacterial Activity and Ornamental Fish Toxicity of the Water Extract of Indian Almond Leaves (Terminalia catappa Linn.). KKU Veterinary Journal, North America, 18, apr. 2011. Available at: . Date accessed: 28 Dec. 2012.
Chitmanat, C., Tongdonmuan, K., Khanom, P., Pachontis, P. and Nunsong, W. 2005. ANTIPARASITIC, ANTIBACTERIAL, AND ANTIFUNGAL ACTIVITIES DERIVED FROM A TERMINALIA CATAPPA SOLUTION AGAINST SOME TILAPIA (OREOCHROMIS NILOTICUS) PATHOGENS. Acta Hort. (ISHS) 678:179-182 http://www.actahort.org/books/678/678_25.htm
Dunlop, Colin. “Leaves for Aquaria.” Tropical Fish Hobbyist Dec. 2010: n. pag. Web. 27 Dec. 2012. .
“Indian Almond Leaves (T. Catappa) for Aquariums.” AllNaturalPetCare.com. AllNaturalPetCare, n.d. Web. 27 Dec. 2012.