The Best Aquarium Driftwood Alternatives

Aquarium driftwood is a great way to add natural beauty to your aquarium. It adds texture and character, and it looks fantastic against a backdrop of gravel or rocks. However, if you don’t have the time to look for driftwood yourself, we have compiled a list of aquarium driftwood alternatives.

Why Use Driftwood in an Aquarium?

Driftwood is the name given to a tree that has been washed ashore on the shore by strong winds or floods. These trees are used for decoration because of their wonderful, unique shapes and colors. They can be made into great aquarium driftwoods with only a little effort.

Adding driftwood to your aquarium provides decoration and natural beauty. It adds a silvery, ‘submerged’ effect, while also creating some great contrast on the background gravel or rocks. Driftwood is usually considered non-toxic by most people and encourages aquatic life in all sorts of ways as well!

Aquarium Driftwood Alternatives

If you’re looking for a driftwood alternative, try any of these great options!

1) Cholla

This is one of the easiest aquarium driftwood options out there. All you need to do is search for some Cholla cactus, which will usually require razor-sharp tools such as pruning shears and/or a chainsaw. After that, snip off all the spines on top of each individual spine piece– these should simply fall away from your hands once cut free (some cling stubbornly thanks to their thorns)- and place each spine along some gravel or rock as you please.

2) Cypress

These are actually known to be far more brittle than Cholla spines, but will add the same ‘submerged’ effect over time. Find a suitable stump or branch to start with though – these things can bleed sap and require supervision when handling! After that, scrape off all loose skin from both sides of your stem before placing them into your aquarium, as long and/or as deep into the tank you like!

It’s a nice contrast to the other types of wood that you might use, and it adds a beautiful color to your decorations. However, it’s more delicate than some of the other options listed here and needs to be kept very wet at all times. Densely packed cypress can actually suffocate the fish in the tank if it gets too dry, so make sure to keep them submerged! The best place to find Cypress would be a bonsai tree nursery or online – just remember that they’re specialized as well and might not have every variety you could want.

3) Bonsai

Speaking of bonsai tree nurseries, another driftwood alternative are bonsais. Bonsai trees come in so many shapes, sizes and colors. They are often grown indoors or outdoors with great results. Although they look like garden plants to some people, most refer to them as indoor foliage plants. The shape of the leaves often looks more like needles than part of a branch structure, while the focus on tiny individual flowers in the branches can make them look much smaller than they really are!

Safe for use in aquariums (with certain precautions), these adorable little trees tend to grow from less substantial roots compared to fully rooted specimens. Getting started with a bonsai will take some time, but is well worth it in the end.

4) Bamboo

As an alternative to Cypress which was mentioned above, many people prefer Bamboo for their driftwood aquarium decoration. Bamboo is sometimes available online, but most places that sell bamboo will have small quantities of it as well. It’s also easily digested and doesn’t burn or smother the fish like other types of wood can! However, since Bamboo is a hardy tree species itself there are many choices in what kind to get; some varieties add great texture to your decorations while others look more like driftwood. We recommend a soft, single stem bamboo to start out with – but it’s all up to you!

5) Moss

Moss is an essential element to your aquarium. You can add it in a number of different ways, and moss grows very quickly when you introduce the appropriate conditions. Garden stores sell this type of “moss” as just that: moss! Look for live “coral” which contains both brownish foliage-like roots along with rhizomes and stems themselves. Lavender moss, for instance, has a brown and green combination adds some organic texture to your tank that always looks great. The lavender provides the calming element in contrast to the delicate crinoid plants you probably have at home.

6) Fern

Ferns are great aquarium driftwoods. They add wonderful texture and a natural, underwater look to your decorations. The downside? Care; water changes will be necessary as they can quickly die in extreme situations or become very dusty if not kept properly wet! In addition, they are fairly low in oxygen and can suffocate if not kept properly wet. However, they are a great choice for aquarium driftwood.

7) Desert Ironwood Driftwood

These guys are a great choice if you’re looking for something more specific than anything else– they go with almost any color shade including green, brown or olive. They will look fabulous when planted in small clusters to create a multicolored effect- just remember that these tend to disintegrate rather quickly so be careful with the touchy edges.

8) Mopani

A popular driftwood alternative for an aquarium is Mopani. It’s a lovely warm brown color which looks great against your various backgrounds and can be made into several different forms. The most common form of Mopani would be the very long one that would make a perfect anchor in an ocean setting with lots of branches to use. However, it also is great as a long driftwood in smaller fish tanks because of all the different branches and shapes that can be made with this beautiful wood.

9) Manzanita

Manzanita is a very lovely wood. It is soft, tight and has beautiful red-gold coloration. This tree’s branches are also great for use in artificial driftwood as they appear to float among the rocks like a floating forest of tiny limbs!

10) Hydrangea

Hydrangeas can be used as potted aquarium driftwood but should not dry out completely before being placed into your tank (always check with aquarists for specifics and suggestions before using). The color of their blossoms is a great contrast to your aqua scape. The giant hydrangea’s blooms can be put directly into the aquarium or they are potted in plastic (also if you want to reuse them) and placed above the aquarium glass, making wonderful driftwood alternatives!

11) Cornelian Cherry & Crabapple

These tree-like plants are awesome for use as drifts. Cornelian cherries and crabapples are both hardy plants, making them great for the tank or aquarium. They will grow to be about 2 feet tall and have a relatively large center stem from which the leaves branch outwards. If you wish, they can also be potted into 4-inch pots of soil before being inserted in your aqua scape! The wonderfully vibrant green color is hot contrast with any setting/aqua scape.