There are very few ways to properly set up an appealing freshwater aquarium. Obviously, the whole "take a glas bowl, add water, add fish" routine isn't one of them. I'm not sure what's more cruel to the animal: the loneliness, the horrid water conditions, or the bubbling treasure chest, plastic skull and/or hellishly coloured castle. Or god forbid, the plastic plant.
One way to do it, is to try and reconstruct a certain biotope, e.g. the Amazon river, the mangrove forest, Lake Malawi. The latter can be somewhat extreme because of its rarity or lack of plants, though: a lot of Malawi tanks are set up with nothing but sand and stones.
Many consider this a purists' style (not the least the owners themselves), as not only live stock is brought together to reflect the real-life habitat, but also all characteristics of the water (pH, carbonate hardness, total hardness, temperature ...) are kept at values prevalent in the biotope being copied. While often put forward as an argument in favour of animal well-being, a biotope tank not necessarily guarantees optimal living conditions.
Another one is called the Dutch style, characterised by lavishly planted tanks; indeed, plants are the centre piece of this kind of aquarium, fish and other animals such as shrimp or molluscs almost being an afterthought (though subjected to rules nonetheless).
A definite favourite of mine is the last one, the nature style aquarium. Not the faithful reproduction of a biotope, nor the creation of a multi-layered plant smorgasbord is what matters here, but rather the illusion of a natural scene, a (submerged) landscape in miniature.
A shrunken Japanese garden, if you will. Not surprisingly, a Japanese formed and championed this style, i.e. Takashi Amano.
There are three books on my shelf by Amano (Nature Aquarium World, book I, II and III) filled to the brim with images of submerged grassy plains, forests, beaches, green hills and mountains. Each and every one shot with technical mastery and a poetic eye.
They rightly belong to the ultimate set of coffee table books. Good luck hunting them down for the prices they originally sold - but even if you can't, I assure you they won't disappoint.
So, why this rant about fish tanks when I'm showing you images from Iceland? Whence the title?
Here we go.
Obviously, the title is a reference to Lord of the Rings' Treebeard, proclaiming he was no tree, but an ent. That "no tree" thing was actually going through my mind when I first laid eyes on the Icelandic dwarf birch, or Betula nana.
Considered a shrub rather than a tree (contrary to Betula pendula or Betula pubescens, common in mainland Europe), I've seen it display an amazingly wide phenotypic expression, ranging from a bush a few metres high, to a ground cover barely 5 centimetres tall, depending on the prevalent living conditions.
Usually displaying a beautifully gnarled habitus, the dwarf birch often resembles an abandoned bonsai, surviving against all odds in adverse climatic conditions and often in very little soil. In a poetic mood, one might compare the hardiness of the dwarf birch to the resilience of the Icelanders themselves.
In any case, whenever I saw slopes covered in dwarf birch, or rogue birches holding their ground against their rocky and barren surroundings, I couldn't help but reminisce about Amano aquascapes, with Vesicularia or Riccia doubling for unkempt grass in one tank, and dense shrubs in another.
Or, in a setup with another scale, Anubias, Cryptocoryne, Microsorium or perhaps even Bolbitis grabbing onto a piece of driftwood and evoking an open tree cover - a patch of Eleocharis underneath, waving in the current.
Ironically, while Amano aquascapes are meant to evoke a natural landscape, I couldn't help myself thinking about those (artificial) aquascapes when admiring the actual landscape, despite the latter being considerably less lush. Odd, how the mind works.
Anyway, time for me to grab a coffee and browse through those Amano books once more. And perhaps, albeit probably temporarily, sooth my ever lingering urge to once more set up a tank myself. No fish, just rocks, plants and white pearl shrimps (Neocaridina cf. zhangjiajiensis), free to roam the tank.