California Driftwood (Ghostwood)

Ghostwood is rather unusual and mysterious driftwood at first glance.

The erotically twisted stems that branch out from the trunk can give off a very eccentric appearance to any vivarium in which it is placed.

If you’ve ever wondered what exactly is this type of driftwood and what is it capable of, this article will fill the void and give insight into the remarkable wood circulating so much hype around recently.

Quick Stats:
Scientific Name Diospyros Ebonasea
Botanical Name Malaysian Driftwood
Other Common Names Ebony, Malaysian Blackwood
Origin (Habitat) Malaysia (Forest)
Height Up to 12 in
Color Dark Brown, Black
PH Impact Acidic
Plant Type (Sector) Tree (Roots, Trunk)

What Is Ghostwood?

Ghostwood is a unique type of wood that originates from various species within the genus Juniperus.

Depending on what country it is exported from, it will vary slightly in appearance.

This article will cover the species Juniperus Californica which is native to the western parts of North America.

This specific plant is where the majority of Ghostwood sold within the United States is harvested.

California Driftwood (Ghostwood) Aquascape Tips

California Driftwood Facts

The wood Juniperus Californica produces within the vivarium niche is commonly known as California Driftwood.

California Driftwood earned the nickname Ghostwood because of its pale, paranormal-like formation.

The perennial plant has such a unique look, it is often used as a source to create bonsai trees.

The slow-growing evergreen tree produces a softwood that is generally harder and more durable than many other driftwoods of its type.


California driftwood is typically sandblasted before being sold into the vivarium market.

This softwood is very pale in color usually found in white or light tan.

Even with the bark still intact, the branches will exhibit a washed-out gray color.

Despite the weak pigmentation, when Ghostwood is placed underwater, the overall hue of this wood will vibrantly shine under good lighting.

The texture of Ghostwood is smooth and flows along the twisting branches.

Striations and folds can be found running along the spiraling branches as well giving the driftwood an overlapping and aged surface.

The shape of these woods is a result of environmental elements like flowing river beds and wind passing throughout the driftwood.

Size and shape will vary based on the particular specimen bought.

Most California Driftwood is harvested from the branch portion of the Juniper tree and will usually be sold in lengths around 1 foot.

The density of Ghostwood is relatively due to being a softwood.

Sinking this wood will require anchoring or a good amount of pre-soaking.


Juniperus Californica is indigenous to the woodlands of California.

Other species of the Juniperus genus can be found around the world but will have a different set of characteristics.

This plant is drought tolerant making it suitable for the desert-like conditions throughout the coastline of California and Nevada.

Environmental Influence

California Driftwood can have a mild influence on the surrounding areas it’s placed within.

In many cases, this is the major reason hobbyists choose to use wood.

The light-colored Ghostwood will leech subtle amounts of tannins into the aquarium water.

On the contrary, it won’t be enough to change the color of water but will lower the PH and hardness of water by a small amount.

This is ideal for tanks that require a PH level to be under 7.

Vivarium Type

Ghostwood is great for both aquariums as well as terrariums.

This versatile wood will provide a healthy source of food to invertebrates as it breaks down and leech into the water.

Use this wood risk-free in any type of vivarium that doesn’t require water hardness to be above 7.

Here is a recommended list of vivariums that California Driftwood is commonly used in:

  • Paludariums – Half aquatic/ half terrain-based enclosure.
  • Ripariums – Mostly aquatic-based enclosures with some terrain features present.
  • Terrariums – Fully terrain-based enclosures with little to no aquatic features.
  • Aquariums – Fully aquatic-based enclosure with no terrain features.

Vivarium Usage

Ghostwood can be used in a number of ways within a vivarium.

This type of driftwood is commonly used as both a hardscape as well as a substrate for many vivarium plants, biofilm, and algae.

They last longer above water and are in most cases presoaked to remove excessive tannin.

In aquariums or ripariums, this wood can be used for a number of years before fully decaying.

As the wood begins to deteriorate, a biofilm is formed along the surface.

Shrimp along with many other types of aquatic animals will feed off of the film digesting healthy nutrients.

In terrariums and the land portions of a paludarium, California Driftwood can be used right away and will continue to age giving off a settled look.

Birds, reptiles, and amphibians will use this wood to stand or climb to higher positions within the enclosure.

Driftwood being placed above water will not have to be pre-soaked but should still be securely placed.


California Driftwood is excellent driftwood for all-level hobbyists as it doesn’t present the potential danger of other woods typically do.

The exotic look will add detail to any enclosure it is placed in and will hold up for a relatively long time before decay.

Without changing the color of the water, this wood will release moderate levels of tannin released are beneficial for freshwater setups and is often ideal for soft water tanks.

Ghostwood will provide a place for inhabitants to hide, breed, and eat. This type of driftwood is non-toxic, making it safe for all kinds of inhabitants.


One of the few drawbacks of using Ghostwood is it may not be suitable for all aquarium biotypes.

Due to the low water parameter influence, this wood would not be ideal for hard water enclosures that require the PH to be above 7.

The wood does float when it’s dry so that may require periods of pre-soaking or anchoring.

Another disadvantage of California Driftwood is its rate of decay.

This wood is not considered rot-resistant.

Above all, it will last much longer than most softwoods but overall it does still have a shelf-life.

Buy California Driftwood

When looking at California Driftwood for sale, expect a few key indicators you are buying the best quality wood.

These woods should always be free of pests.

In addition, the source of driftwood should come from a contributor who Preferably specializes in the pet industry.

Avoid taking these from craft stores or outdoors unless you can assure the wood hasn’t been treated with toxic chemicals or pesticides.

Click the image below to find out more about the current price and other relative info:

California Driftwood Preparation

When acquiring Ghostwood for the first time, it may need to be properly conditioned before going into a vivarium.

All pieces should be inspected to make certain no pest or rot has taken residence within the wood.

Once checked, it can be cleaned and placed securely within the desired enclosure.

Sterilizing Ghostwood

Above all, It is always a good idea to sterilize driftwood when you first receive it.

A light brushing will knock excess dirt and sand off.

If additional cleaning is required, pressure washing California Driftwood would be the next step in cleaning it.

Furthermore, if the pieces of wood are small enough to fit in a pot, boiling the wood is a definite way to kill bacteria as well as saturate the wood from tannins that may lead to unwanted water coloration.

Sinking Ghostwood

California Driftwood is not a difficult wood to sink underwater.

Presoaking the wood for a few days should allow it to saturate enough to make it remain submerged.

If time is against you, a faster option will be to mount Ghostwood onto a heavier rock, like slate.

The stone can easily be covered with a substrate.

Driftwood Similar To Ghostwood

Adding diversity to an enclosure is key to an aesthetically pleasing enclosure.

Try mixing up the look of your vivarium with different woods that can easily co-exist in the same types of environment.

Furthermore, if for some reason you find this wood hard to acquire or would like to consider something similar to it…

Either way, here are some other kinds of driftwoods you might find may do well with or in place of California Driftwood:

Bamboo Wood (Stakes, Poles & Hides) - The Hardscape Guide
Grapewood Branches "Grapevine" - The Driftwood Guide
Azalea Roots "Spider Wood" - The Hardscape Guide


In conclusion, Ghostwood is almost perfect across the board when being considered as vivarium driftwood.

It sets a new standard in hardscaping material with its alluring appearance and easy management.

California Driftwood is safe for all level hobbyists and will last a good amount of time in multiple biotypes.

If this is your first time learning about this unique wood, what’s the first word that comes to mind when you think about it?

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