Clinoptilolite: From fish tank to bonsai pot

I picked up a 40lb bag of clinoptilolite (aka zeolite, of which clinoptilolite is a subset). It’s a naturally occurring mineral with high porosity, a honeycomb structure, and a CEC so high that it is used as filter media in fish tanks to absorb the produced ammonia. It’s already being used by many as a component in bonsai soil mixes as a substitute for, GASP, Akadama. I will not make the same claims, having only recently bought my first bags of both components.

Zeolite (easier to say and type than “clinoptilolite”) when used in your fish tank, can be “recharged” and reused as filter media. So, yes, there is a way to get it to release the ammonia. Many of you are already saying “Hey! I already use rechargeable filter media.” Yeah. That’s most likely zeolite.

To see what happens, I’m thinking of using about a quart of zeolite as fish tank filter media for a month, then mixing it 50/50 with un-used zeolite, and potting some bald cypress seedlings in the mix. I’ll do a control group of zeolite straight out of the bag. I wonder if the fish tank media mix will burn the roots or not.

Here’s my hypothesis:
Akadama, untreated clinoptilolite zeolite, fish tank media clinoptilolite, haydite, lava rock, diatomaceous earth, pine bark, horticultural charcoal, will each produce their own measurable effects on the health of bald cypress and the structure of bald cypress roots. Which is another way of saying “Ooooo! I can’t wait to see what THIS will do!”

Testing the media. Bear in mind, I’m a guy working in my backyard. To do this right, I’d need about 30 trees in each group and all of them of the same age. My availability of trees is limited to a trip along the local swamps hoping to pull some trees out of the water.

The groups will consist of two to four bald cypress potted in the following substrate blends:
100% Akadama
100% Clinoptilolite
50% Clinoptilolite 50% Fish Tank Clinoptilolite
50% Haydite 50% Pine Bark (my substrate for 20+ years)
1 part Haydite, 1 part Lava Rock, 1 part Diatomaceous Earth, 1 part Clinoptilolite, 1 part Horticultural Charcoal*

I’m going to run this experiment with two versions of each group. Half the test will be in pots that drain, the other will be in flooded pots. The pots will not be allowed to drain from March to November. I already know what this does to bald cypress roots and trunks when the air runs out. I want to see what this does with the various soil blends. (“Let’s play a game”)

General health of the trees
Growth of the tree
Increase in root mass
Ramification of roots
Breakdown of the soil
Particle penetration by roots and resulting ramification

Because Akadama is the gold standard of bonsai substrates, all evaluations will be done against the “Free-Draining Akadama” group as if it were the control group. The “Flooded Akadama” group is not expected to be the gold standard of the flooded groups.

I’ll be sure to fully document and share my results here at Mirai. Unless NatGeo wants to pick up the movie rights, that is :rofl:

*Horticultural charcoal? Who am I kidding. I’m using the dregs of my bags of lump charcoal that I use in my Big Green Egg.

Here’s a close-up the clinoptilolite I bought today. I got it from Grainger. It’s called “Ecotraction”. The particle size is similar to the 3/16" mesh particles of Haydite that I purchase locally. I’m looking through Alibaba to find a supplier of a slightly larger particle size. I hope they can ship direct to New Orleans.


There is also EcoTraction Pro with larger particules, at least in Canada.

Ecotraction PRO???.……


Edit: Went to check. Turns out, that is exactly what it says on my bag.

I have tried fluval aquarium substrate and eco complete substrate planted. My trees look happy and healthy.

"Collected from the mineral-rich foothills of Mount Aso Volcano in Japan, Fluval Stratum makes an ideal alternative substrate for planted aquariums and those featuring shrimp. " -

Japanese substrates. Just when I think I’m out, they suck me back in!

I’m not talking about using zeolite as a substrate in the fish tank. Zeolite is placed inside of a net bag and inserted into the filtration system. It traps the ammonia produced by the fish. That’s what I’m going to use in my soil mix.

Experment Note: Years ago, I did an experiment using Superthrive by testing it on basil. The results were startling. All the Superthrive-treated herbs were stunted in comparison to their control groups. I may run a parallel experiment using basil along with the bald cypress. I’ll evaluate the plants using the same criteria.

Can’t wait to get first results of this trial, as Zeolite can relatively easy be purchased here in Austria. The supplier gets it from Italy as well as the pumice.
Zeolite can hold up to 7 times more water than Akadama does, I once heard, so I use it for water loving species like bald cypress
Best regards

1 Like

Haha! Ok, suitable local substrates… ok. :grin:
The size of this substrate is perfect for shohin. But off topic.

The eco complete is not japanese. My blue rug juniper is thriving on pure eco complete, in a fabric pot. It is also sitting on a half inch deep pot saucer with water all the time.

1 Like

Forgot to mention, the blue rug was dying before I repotted it. It was “free” at home depot. It was on 80% off clearance. I said it’s dying so they gave it to me free.

Excellent bargaining tactic.

So Bill,

Am I right to assume that Clinoptiloilite is the same mineral as what is sold as Chabasai which apparently is also a form of zeolite?

All I get on a Google search of “Chabasai” is French bonsai pages. I’m thinking that someone is masking the origin of Chabasai to inflate the price of the bonsai-related product. Google image search shows the material to be brown, which may or may not be clinoptilolite. Clinoptilolite is gray to green in color. The Chinese sell the green variant. The bag I purchased is sourced in Nevada. That makes me think I should have checked it for radioactivity. The brown version may be what the French are selling.

Chabazite is a zeolite that has a similar color to “chabasai”, but it is a crystal. Using “-sai” at the end of Chabasai makes me think there is some relation, however. Perhaps Chabasai a portmanteau of “Chabazite” and “Bonsai”.

Since you’re from Montreal, is there some word in French that marketers could be tacking on to “sai”?

American Bonsai sells a poorly-named substrate they call “NutraAgg”. I cannot find anyone else selling “NutraAgg”. I suspect it is clinoptilolite. Giving substrates esoteric names hides their origins and raises prices. Giving them silly names like “Nut-Rag” only makes it worse.

I cannot find Chabasai on This tells me it that someone is really trying to stick it to the bonsai market.

I’m (we) are studying diatomaceous earth and zeolite now for replacement of akadama in bonsai. Too many brand and products names and sources…
We NEED a (crowdsoarced) compiled information .
base… Information is power

Bonsai for 45 years, chemist for 40. Keen on natural products.
Chabasai… hee hee. No.
Never heard of clinoptilite. Need to look it up. Super heading for any group of zeolite, etc…?
Chunk charcoal for bbq is NOT activated charcoal… maybe…don’t need it in bonsai soil anyway. It would permanently bind fertilizer. High temps >250F to release it… same for zeolite. Plants MIGHT have access to it?
(This more about me…)
BE painfully aware that one is born every day…
The first akadama I purchased… turned to mush the first season, and then dried to concrete…
Took me 30 years to try it sgain…
Fluvial aggregate from Mt. Aso… sounds like over kilned akadama… They cannot ship to US until they prove EVERYYHING is dead in the product… They check for radiation now, too.
Any label put on a random natural product dug from the ground needs to be suspeceous until you evaluate each… Different sources with the SAME name label will have different chemical and physical propertys… Pick ONE good product and stick with it…
This gets complicated real fast. Safety first…
Natural ‘soils’ (etc) bind chemicals and release elementals. Some I do not want to be exposed to, my Bonsai, either…
I wish I had access to a lab… lead, arsenic zinc, antimony… radiation? All natural products…:expressionless::thinking:
:grin: bonsai on…

In a recent live stream, Ryan spoke to the differing qualities of Akadama. Here in New Orleans, the word of mouth is to stay away from Akadama because it breaks down too quickly. Apparently, it’s not supposed to turn to mush. That’s the cheap Akadama. Ryan commented on how vendors will buy the cheapest Akadama they can find and mark it up to an unsuspecting marketplace. That’s how the bad Akadama makes it out there.

I recently purchased “Hard Akadama” from a vendor who was also selling “Soft Akadama”. I’m glad I did. I’ll have a better chance of getting something worthwhile.

As for the natural consequences of using natural products, are you trying to tell me that radon is BAD for my bonsai? What about the tritiated water I’ve been getting shipped in from Nevada? It must be good for my trees. Ever since I’ve been fertilizing with phosphorous and zinc sulfide, they’ve had a certain glow about them. Hell, at night, I’ve been able to light up my yard with my trees. They ARE supposed to be green, right? Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve been experimenting with ammonium diuranate in my pottery glazes and the next batch will be coming out soon. That dust gets everywhere.

EDIT: It occurs to me that I should probably tell the eavesdropping security agencies that I have not been buying tritiated water, aerating my plants with radon, or making pottery with ammonium diuranate glazes.

1 Like

Good catch on the edit…Its actually a BOT program now…
Just don’t use the b😮mb word…
Let’s see? We were conversing about bonsai soil…

Is it true that EcoTraction turns green when wet? If so, how green?

Never run into Eco Traction. Green would be OK…
However, the zeolite and diatomaceous earth I used in my fish tank grew green algae REAL well(amonia capture). Kept a 13" algae eater (plecostomus) real fat. At irregular periods, I cleaned the tank and regenerated it @>250F for several hours—outside, reaked… Still have it, dried, stached somewhere… have a new 5lb box trying out for bonsai usage. 1/4" Diatomaceous earth also. Nothing to report yet… pumice in bonsai soil grows algae and turns green…

My wife laughed… just use swamp water for bonsai fertilizer…

Bill any updates on the Ecotraction?

Been going through a rough patch here on the bayou. I’m working on waking up my inner bonsai.

The current state of the project is: I haven’t planted anything. Yet.

I’m going to be testing different soil mixtures using tomato plants. Granted, all I’ll prove is the effective nature of the soil on tomatoes, but I think it will give me a good place to start with subsequent tests.

I have several soil amendments on hand: Haydite, Pine Bark, Diatomaceous Earth, Clinoptilolite (Ecotraction), Akadama, Pumice, Lava Rock (Red and Black). I also have 5 different varieties of tomatoes in which to grow them. I’ll be planting the seeds into a coir starter medium tonight. FINALLY! Then, when the tomatoes come up, I’ll transplant them into different mixes to see if there is any different between them. I don’t have the room, a ton of each substrate, or 300 pots to give this the full test, but I think I can get some comparisons in play.

This will be one of those studies that ends with the phrase “No certain conclusions, but plenty of areas where further study is warranted.”

1 Like

We are using a lot zeolite and diatomaceous earth here in Oz. Zeolite is great, sharp, extremely hard (but won’t scale), and heavy too… I am too new in the game, but from observation, pumice, zeolite and diatomaceous earth work great together