How to Care for Kenya Tree Coral

How to Care for Kenya Tree Coral (Capnella spp.)

Kenya tree corals are one of the renowned soft corals in the reef aquarium hobby, owing to their impressive growth form, hardiness, ease of propagation, and adaptability to a variety of water conditions.

Nonetheless, I need to say that all these pros can also turn into cons due to the invasive nature of these corals. That is why some people absolutely hate Kenya tree corals with a huge passion.

This species is shaped like a small tree, and it possesses puffy branches (tentacles) that sway majestically in the water. Kenya tree coral is a great coral species, and hobbyists can use the coral to create an interesting centerpiece in the mid to lower sections of a reef aquarium.

Keep reading for everything there is to know about the Kenya tree coral, including its behavior, appearance, tank requirements, propagation, and how to nurture it in a saltwater tank.

Quick Notes about Kenya Tree Coral

Name Kenya tree coral
Common Names Capnella coral, Cauliflower coral, Colt coral, and Nepthea coral
Scientific Name Capnella spp.
Tank size (minimum) 10 gallons (~40 liters)
Keeping Easy
Propagation Easy
Lighting
Medium  
Water flow Moderate to strong
Optimal Temperature 72 – 82°F (22 – 28°C)
Optimal Salinity SG = 1.023 – 1.025
Optimal PH 8.1 – 8.4
Optimal KH 8 – 12
Nitrate 2.5 – 10 ppm
Feeding Photosynthetic 
Tank placement Bottom to Middle
Growth Rate Fast
Toxicity
Yes (weak toxins)
Invasive Yes 
Temper Semi-aggressive
Color Form Various colors – brown, beige, pink, purple, green, etc.

Origin of Kenya Tree Coral

Kenya tree coral refers to Capnella, a genus of soft corals in the family Nephtheidae. These corals are known for their attractive tree-like form and structure, adaptability, fast growth, and super self-propagative qualities.

The scientific classification of the Kenya tree coral is summarized below.

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Cnidaria
Class: Anthozoa
Order: Alcyonacea
Family: Nephtheidae
Genus: Capnella

These corals are also known by the common names: Capnella coral, Cauliflower coral, Colt coral, and Nepthea coral.

Habitat of Kenya Tree Coral

Kenya tree corals are widespread throughout the Indo Pacific and the Red Sea.

Many colonies of Kenya trees exist on coral reef slopes in clear water, from deep to shallow areas with strong tidal currents.

Kenya tree corals also live in shadier spots and on coral rubble in shallow water close to the shore.

Description of Kenya Tree Coral

This species is arborescent, i.e. resembling a tree. Kenya tree corals possess several lateral branches that are heavily forked. The branches grow out from a thick trunk, and they sway gently in the aquarium water.

These corals can grow really large and can reach up to 12 inches (30 cm) in diameter.

Though Kenya tree corals are not stony corals, they possess rigid structures called sclerites. These are composed of calcium carbonate, and their role is to provide structural support for the animal.

In addition, Kenya tree corals are available in various colors, ranging from brown, beige, purple, pink and green, etc.

Note: The green-colored variant fluoresces in actinic lighting, whereas others give off a rather drab coloration. It is also not that common in the hobby and more pricy.

Kenya tree corals are one of the easiest aquarium corals to frag because of their form. It is the presence of branches that gives them an arboreal look and equally eases the fragging process.

Behavior of Kenya Tree Coral

The Kenya tree corals, Capnella spp., are known for several behaviors, especially hostile tendencies and easy propagation.

They are often considered semi-aggressive, and it is not unusual for Kenya trees to attack nearby corals by releasing some chemical toxins in the battle for real estate.

Kenya trees corals lack the sweeper tentacles found in many aquarium corals, so they often resort to the toxic substances in their arsenal to ward off predatory species and competitors. Studies have revealed that these substances are similar to terpenes emitted by toadstool corals. Terpenes are capable of limiting growth in organisms by impacting cellular division.

Additionally, without regular pruning, Kenya tree coral will spread all over the aquarium. They are capable of budding and fragmentation, i.e. releasing tiny parts or buds of the parent colony; these will break away and move to different areas of the reef tank, then grow and develop into a polyp.

Features:

  • Peaceful: No
  • Toxicity: Yes (very low)
  • Invasive: Yes

Feeding Kenya Tree Coral

Kenya tree coral receives some nutrition with the aid of the symbiotic algae (zooxanthellae) living in their soft tissue. They also feed by absorbing dissolved nutrients and trapping micro planktons and organic matter from the water column.

Though they obtain nourishment through the symbiotic algae that live within their tissue, it won’t be enough to make them grow optimally. That said, they need supplemental target feeding at least once a week.

They can be fed foods such as:

Use a suitable feeding tool, e.g. turkey baster or pipette.

The use of a feeding tool enables one to target-feed the corals, making sure that they receive the meal directly and thus, prevent leftovers in the aquarium.

Features:

  • Photosynthetic: Yes
  • Diet Type: Micro-plankton
  • Feeding Frequency: 1 time per week or two

Tank Requirements and Water Parameters

Tank size:

Kenya tree coral can be kept in various tanks, from nano and mini tanks to large-sized ones.

However, the recommended tank size for housing this species is a minimum of 10 gallons (40 liters) because of its ability to reproduce quickly and the need for proper spacing.

Note: Personally, I would not recommend keeping this coral in very large tanks. As it will be a pain in the back to control Kenya tree coral there. However, in small to medium tanks it’s basically impossible to not notice when they drop babies and start their expansion.

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Water type, Temperature, Hardness, and pH:

Temperature: The ideal temperature for raising Kenya tree coral is 72 – 82 °F (22 – 28 °C).
Salinity: Maintain relative specific gravity of 1.023 – 1.025 in the reef tank.
Alkalinity: 8 – 12 dKH.
pH: 8.1 – 8.4
Calcium: 400 – 450ppm
Magnesium: 1250 – 1350ppm
Nitrite and Ammonia: 0ppm
Nitrate
: around 2.5 to 10ppm

Phosphate: from 0.03 to 0.1 ppm
Note: Yes. Kenya tree corals like nitrates and phosphates.

Lighting:

Kenya tree corals form a symbiotic relationship with marine algae zooxanthellae dwelling in its tissue. This relationship helps it obtain nourishment through photosynthesis. Thus, it is essential to provide them with indirect, moderate lighting.

Ensure to maintain PAR values between 75 – 100, with a photoperiod of at least 8 hours every day.

Note: Do not keep the corals under direct metal halides or extreme lighting conditions to avoid polyp retraction, shriveling, and bleaching issues. 

Flow:

This species will appreciate moderate to high water flow conditions to keep the polyps fully extended.

Moderate flow also helps propel organic matter closer to its mouth and carry waste material away from its body.

Don’t be overzealous, too high water flow may also make the polyps uncomfortable, causing them to retract or break away from the colony.

Placement:

Kenya tree corals will enjoy places where they can receive enough lighting and water flow, preferably in the low or mid-sections of the reef aquarium.

These corals can attach to anything – rocks, glass, even clumps of sand itself. Wherever they stick, they just take off. 

Care for Kenya Tree Coral

Kenya tree coral is a hardy, beginner-friendly species of soft corals that can thrive in a range of aquarium conditions. However, it would help if you were cautious while keeping this coral as it can reproduce quickly.

You are required to closely observe the colony and prune the coral when they are too grown or excess in number. In the same vein, make sure to scout for fragments or buds growing on undesirable areas and remove them; else, they will overpopulate and overrun your reef tank.

Kenya tree coral doesn’t need pristine water conditions to grow and thrive. They will appreciate water with lots of dissolved nutrients to feed off, so you don’t have to maintain very clean water.

Furthermore, this coral will easily detach its branches and buds if there is strong water flow in the reef tank. So if you dread a Kenya tree coral infestation, you should keep this species under moderate flow.

As earlier mentioned, the ideal location for your Kenya tree coral is in an area of moderate flow and moderate lighting, preferably distant from direct lighting and aquarium equipment.

Now, since this species is known to release chemical substances into the water as a defense mechanism. Therefore, you must engage in frequent water changes to remove/dilute it. You may as well fit activated carbon media into the filter to inhibit the potency of this harmful chemical.

Common Problems Associated with Kenya Tree Coral

Invasiveness: Kenya tree corals are great starter corals. They are beautiful but they also do grow like weeds. Unfortunately, it can also cause some problems as they may start dropping babies everywhere. The reason, why the reef community often calls them – ‘the regular self-fragging mess’ or even pest corals.
Solution: Do not even try to put it on its own island! It will not work, they will split and float around the tank. The only way to control Kenya tree corals is to be vigilant and regularly remove dropped branches before they get out of control.

Inflating branches: You may see that your Kenya tree corals start changing – some branches become significantly thicker. It happens when the coral is preparing to drop these branches. After that, those branches will float around the tank until they find a new place to start their own colony.         

Solution: Monitor the situation and remove them once they are separated.

Droopy: They close up and/or hang down.

Solution: If it is a new coral that it needs time to acclimate. Also, check your water flaw, Kenya tree corals like the flow.

Hard to remove: It can be really hard (if possible) to get rid of established Kenya tree corals.

Solution: Scrape the place with the razor or cut it as low as possible. Then, use superglue or kalk paste on the area you removed them from. You may have to do it several times before you will be able to completely get rid of Kenya coral.

Tip: If it is possible, do it outside the tank. There will be slime.

Do not open: Corals shrivels down.

Solution: Check your lighting and water flow. This problem often happens when the coral cannot shed the old skin. The old skin thus causes necrosis at the base.

Compatibility issues: Once established, Kenya tree coral may grow out of control and overcome other corals.

Solution: Make it a species only tank or constant control.

Reproduction of Kenya Tree Coral

Kenya tree corals reproduce:

  • asexually through budding or
  • fragmentation.

In asexual reproduction, Kenya tree corals reproduce by dropping buds and branches off the main colony into the reef tank. This behavior is dubbed “self-propagation”. The fallen buds and limbs floating in the tank water attach to the substrate or crevices and grow.

This mode of reproduction causes the Kenya tree coral to reproduce quickly, filling up the reef tank with a vast population of tree-like invertebrates capable of overtaking it.

Therefore, you must exercise adequate care to control the Kenya tree population to avoid an infestation. An excellent preventive measure would be to remove excess buds or fragments from the reef tank, stopping them from embedding in the substrate and growing into a new colony.

Fragging Kenya Tree Coral

Apart from the self-propagation explained above, an aquarist can also propagate the coral colony to create several new individual polyps through a process termed fragging.

To frag the Kenya tree coral:

  1. Use a sharp blade, scissors, or scalpel and carefully cut the branches.
  2. Afterward, take the new frags and attach them to coral frag plugs or rocks using a rubber band to hold them loosely until they take hold.
    Note: Kenya tree corals don’t really glue well. If you glue the skin with cyanoacrylate gel, they usually start releasing slim and then fall off. It makes it hard to glue them directly.
  3. Take a cup of water from the main tank and put new and old corals there. The Kenya Tree Coral gives off chemical toxins when it is disturbed. We don’t want any of that in the main tank.
  4. After a few hours, place them on rocks in the main tank.
  5. Within two weeks you could cut or take the rubber band off.

Safety measures: Before you start, wear glasses and a pair of gloves. Do not touch the coral with your bare hands. You never know that can squirt into your eyes.

Also, don’t forget to treat these frags with an iodine solution beforehand to prevent any likely infections.

Keep in mind that fragging may stress the coral so it won’t open for a few days. It is normal behavior.

Buying Kenya Tree Coral

This species is widely available and usually costs less than $50 for a colony. However, pricing is dependent on specific metrics like size, color, and rarity. For instance, the green variant is priced higher because it is rare and highly desired.

While shopping, make sure to go for healthy aquacultured specimens since they tend to do better than those sourced from the wild.

A healthy Kenya tree colony will most likely be active and looking all puffy (inflated) — with the polyps or branches extended and swaying in the water.

In Conclusion

If you seek an adaptable, fast-growing coral species, it would be appropriate to opt for the Kenya tree coral.

Kenya tree corals are an excellent candidate for new and mature tanks. It has an attractive build and is capable of adjusting to a range of water conditions.

These are incredibly resilient corals. As a beginner, intermediate, or experienced reef hobbyist, you should consider having this hardy coral in your main display tank only if you are ready to control its invasive nature!

Remember, you will have to get used to trimming the Kenya tree corals and removing the ones you don’t want. You will need to do it often.

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