Top 10 Corals for Beginners

Top 10 Corals for Beginners

You may have spent hours marvelling at the subjugating display of corals in various aquarium tanks, only hoping to bring any one of these vibrant nests of color back home. Although corals might fascinate you with their intricate shapes and forms, they can be remarkably easy to take care of, as long as you are able to pick out the right ones.

From lighting to water composition and temperature, maintaining your dream reef might at first glance seem like an impossible task. Fortunately, beginners need not be intimidated anymore as these ten top corals for new saltwater aquarium owners could not be easier to care for.

List of Top 10 Corals for Beginners

  1. Toadstool Mushroom Corals
  2. Sinularia Leather Corals
  3. Zoanthus Button Polyps
  4. Green Star Polyps
  5. Sea Mat and Button Polyps
  6. Folded Brain Corals
  7. Bubble Corals
  8. Bird’s Nest Corals
  9. Xenia Corals
  10. Montipora Corals

1. Toadstool Mushroom Corals (Sarcophyton sp.)

Toadstool Mushroom Corals (Sarcophyton sp.)Toadstool Mushroom Corals are wonderful for beginners since they are some of the easiest to accommodate in a saltwater aquarium. They are remarkably flexible and tolerant to a variety of conditions such that owners will not have to be perched over the thermometer the whole day.

These corals are able to adapt to a range of lighting intensities and are considered to be rather hardy although they do prefer slower current flows. Murky waters are cherished by the Toadstool Mushroom coral as it feeds on the nutrients naturally present in the saltwater and will help keep beginner aquarium owners’ mind at ease for some time.

As the name suggests, these corals resemble the shape and size of conventional toadstool mushrooms. Still, their delicate branch-like extensions come in a spectrum of colors. Their ability to quickly grow and propagate is appreciated by newer aquariums as the spread of their vibrant caps will rapidly liven up the surrounding rock.

Toadstool Mushroom Corals are most commonly cream, pinkish or brown in color. However, because there are about several dozen species in the genus Sarcophyton, it is also possible to find green or even yellow coloration.  

Important: Their capacity for rapid propagation does, however, make the Toadstool Mushroom coral into a rathe aggressive species. They are able to produce toxins which demand a greater care on behalf of owners when they need to be handled in and out of the tank.

To avoid any unwanted damage, they should be accommodated with sufficient space around them to avoid direct or close contact with other corals.

Toadstool Mushroom Corals Optimal Requirements:

  • Water pH: 8.1 – 8.4.
  • Alkalinity: 8 to 10 dKH
  • Specific gravity:021 to 1.026
  • Temperature: 75 – 80 degrees Fahrenheit (24 – 26 C).
  • Phosphate: <0.01 mg/l
  • Calcium: 400 – 440 mg/l
  • Lighting: Moderate to high.

Care level: Easy 

2. Sinularia Leather Corals (Sinularia sp.)

Sinularia Leather Corals (Sinularia sp.)Leather corals are part of the saltwater aquarium starter pack as they thrive best in the middle grounds of most parameters. These hardy soft corals are quite common in the wild and in the trade. Some moderate lighting and mild currents will suffice to keep these textured corals content and growing.

Their supple structure lets them flaunt their gorgeous pastel colors at every flow of water to catch the attention of any on-lookers. It is their flexible skeleton which gives rise to its leathery quality and subsequent appellation.

Their ability to grow rapidly is very much appreciated by beginners who are able to promptly start showing off their tanks. If their rapid propagation wasn’t rewarding enough already, it seems that the wider they spread, the more intricate their design becomes.

The earthy tones of the Sinularia Leather corals have an unmatched ability to enrich the surrounding water and create an additional sense of depth in your aquarium. Leather corals are equipped with adept tentacles which they may use to fight off any other colonizing coral or to feed on nearby nutrients.

Note: Leather corals can grow quickly and big enough to start shading nearby specimens. So, you need to provide them some space.

Important: To be safe, you need to keep activated carbon all the time. The point is that some Sinularia species, for example, Sinularia flexibilis produce terpenes, these chemicals can be toxic to some other reef species (like Acropora, Catalaphyllia, Euphyllia, Plerogyra, Porites, etc.) or inhibit the growth of different stony corals. 

Sinularia Leather Corals Optimal Requirements:

  • Water pH: 8.1 – 8.4.
  • Alkalinity: 8 to 12 dKH
  • Specific gravity:021 to 1.026
  • Temperature: 74 – 80 degrees Fahrenheit (23 – 26 C).
  • Phosphate: <.01 mg/l
  • Calcium: 380 – 450 mg/l
  • Lighting: Moderate to high lighting.

Care level: Easy.

An excellent choice for the beginning reef aquarist, just do not forget about carbon. 

3. Zoanthus Button Polyps (Zoanthus sp.)

Zoanthus Button Polyps (Zoanthus sp.)Zoanthus corals will bloom into beautiful bouquets on your aquarium floor. Their mesmerising ensemble of vibrant colors certainly make them a favorite of aquarium owners. Luckily, this includes beginners too since they will essentially grow in any location.

Zoanthus corals require very limited care and can survive under a wide range of lighting and moderate to strong strengths of current. As long as the conditions and parameters of the water are kept stable, Zoanthus corals will proliferate graciously.

Their wonderful fluorescent patterns are therefore remarkably easy to get a hold of and match in different combinations since they tend to crowd around into colonies over and across rocks.

Important: The only factor one needs to keep in mind when handling Zoanthus corals is their release of strong neurotoxins (sting) which do pose a risk to other organisms in an aquarium as well as humans.

If you need to move or cut the coral, you should make sure to wear gloves and goggles to avoid Palytoxin poisoning. Ideally, they can be left alone to swiftly reproduce and maintain themselves on various algae and bacteria.

Zoanthus Corals Optimal Requirements:

  • Water pH: 8.1 – 8.4.
  • Alkalinity: 8 to 11 dKH
  • Specific gravity:021 to 1.026
  • Temperature: 74 – 83 degrees Fahrenheit (22 – 27 C).
  • Phosphate: <.01 mg/l
  • Calcium: 380 – 430 mg/l
  • Lighting: Moderate to high.

Care level: Easy

Read more about it in my article “How to Care for Zoanthid Corals“.

4. Green Star Polyps (Pachyclavularia sp.)

Green Star Polyps (Pachyclavularia sp.)The Green Star Polyp is a favorite for beginners due to both its electrifying green glow and its unparalleled ability to spread throughout almost any aquarium. Their sensitivity to metal oxides, most notably including iodine and aluminium, seems to be the only thing holding back these corals from filling your tank with their neon gleam.

Not even the glass will be spared from their fast growth, as their grass-like extensions will attempt to catch every current and flow. Neither the intensity of light, nor the current intensity will hold back the Green Star Polyp from taking over every last bare rock in your aquarium. Beginners may wish to begin by isolating their coral to avoid having to trim them down too often.

These seemingly indestructible corals offer a rewarding display for any novice coral grower. Green Star Polyps can be found at affordable prices and at most coral shops as they are a top choice for many saltwater aquarium owners. Ensuring that no metals leech from the filter used in your tank is the only precaution needed to care for these polyps. 

Green Star Corals Optimal Requirements:

  • Water pH: 8.1 – 8.4.
  • Alkalinity: 8 to 10 dKH
  • Specific gravity:021 to 1.026
  • Temperature: 74 – 80 degrees Fahrenheit (22 – 26 C).
  • Phosphate: <.01 mg/l
  • Calcium: 400 – 440 mg/l
  • Lighting: Moderate.

Care level: Easy  

Read more about it in my article “How to Care for Green Star Polyps”.

5. Sea Mat or Button Polyps (Palythoa sp.)

Sea Mat or Button Polyps (Palythoa sp.)These eccentrically shaped polyps will brighten up the newest of tanks with their vivid colors. The Button Polyp, also known as Sea Mat, will tolerate fainter lighting and stronger currents, making them one of the hardier species of corals. This also translates itself in terms of their aggressivity as they are known for their ability to quickly reproduce and take over the surface of tanks.

It is very hard to identify different species of Palythoa based of physical attributes because they often look alike except the coloration and size. That is why in aquarium trade they are often referred by their coloration.  

These are known to release toxic chemicals which can be potentially harmful to animals and humans. They should, therefore, be moved and touched responsibly to avoid any unnecessary exposure.

As long as they are handled with care, they are a delight for beginners to have in their saltwater aquariums. Their neon shades tend to form tightly packed clusters of polyps which are sure to offer a mesmerising display.

Button Polyp (Sea Mat) Optimal Requirements:

  • Water pH: 8.1 – 8.3
  • Alkalinity: 8 to 11 dKH
  • Specific gravity:024 to 1.026
  • Temperature: 74 – 83 degrees Fahrenheit (22 – 27 C).
  • Phosphate: <.01 mg/l
  • Calcium: 380 – 430 mg/l
  • Lighting: High.

Care level: Easy

6. Folded Brain Corals (Trachyphyllia sp.)

Folded Brain Corals (Trachyphyllia sp.)These corals often called Open brain corals or Rose corals. Their unsettling yet fascinating appearance will add a strong sense of character to any aquarium and are the reason why they are so beloved by coral owners.

Folded Brain Corals are great for beginners who enjoy larger stony corals which are able to stand as individual central pieces in their tank. The Folded Brain coral’s entangled skeleton is covered by a large polyp which enjoys brighter light intensities and slow currents. Although they will still grow remarkably well in fainter lighting, they will only fluoresce noticeably under actinic lighting. They are brightly colored and most common green, brown and drab tones.

Folded Brain Corals are always attached to a hard substrate, they are not reported as ever being free-living.

This popular coral thrives well in most waters as it feeds on the organic matter or bacteria present in them. They do so by extending thin tentacles to catch the nutrients and are most active during the night time.

Note: Although Folded Brain Corals appear rather still during the day, they are considered to be quite aggressive and can potentially impede the growth of other nearby corals. Care should, therefore, be taken when placing them strategically as they will grow and propagate wherever they are placed.

Folded Brain Corals Optimal Requirements:

  • Water pH: 8.1 – 8.4.
  • Alkalinity: 8 to 11 dKH
  • Specific gravity:021 to 1.026
  • Temperature: 74 – 83 degrees Fahrenheit (22 – 27 C).
  • Phosphate: <.01 mg/l
  • Calcium: 400 – 430 mg/l
  • Lighting: Low to moderate

Care level: Easy

7. Bubble Corals (Plerogyra Sinuosa)

Bubble Corals (Plerogyra Sinuosa)The bubble coral offers a truly intriguing sight with its delicate polyps agglomerating into a bulbous marvel. As precarious as they might appear, these corals are surprisingly easy to care for even for a beginner aquarist.

These colorful pockets of polyp only require minimal lighting as they will thrive under almost any type and intensity of light. They are ideal to place in any shaded corner of your tank to brighten it up with their intriguing display. This is an invaluable advantage for beginners hoping to start their aquarium with a variety of species but limited budget.

The bubble coral is renowned for being a hardy stony coral, which makes it resistant to most saltwater environments as long as it isn’t directly exposed to strong currents. These corals prefer gentle and turbulent water flow, it should be just enough to prevent debris from settling on their tissues.

Their unique and unusual shape, coming in a gradient of pastel colors, will make them stand out on the rock and certainly catch the eye of more than one passer-by.

Bubble Corals Optimal Requirements:

  • Water pH: 8.1 – 8.4
  • Alkalinity: 7 to 12 dKH
  • Specific gravity:024 to 1.026
  • Temperature: 75 – 80 degrees Fahrenheit (23 – 26 C).
  • Phosphate: <.01 mg/l
  • Calcium: 420 – 440 mg/l
  • Lighting: Moderate.

Care level: Easy

8. Bird’s Nest Corals (Seriatopora hystrix)

Bird’s Nest Corals (Seriatopora hystrix)These stony corals are some of the easiest SPS corals to maintain for beginners. Their hard branch-like extensions are a great way to add volume to your aquarium in a textured and colorful way.

As the name suggests, these corals will grow quickly to assume a shape similar to one of a bird’s nest. Their shape and size make these corals into ideal hosts for a variety of small crabs which are often seen establishing their residence in and around the rocky branches.

The Birdnest coral tends to prefer stronger lighting conditions, although it will not do well under harsh lights. These corals prefer turbulent flow, the current should be moderate to high.

Although they may require a bit more patience to adjust the optimal parameters for it to thrive in your tank, they still remain quite popular amidst beginners for the instructive challenge they offer.

Note: Keep in mind that if you are planning to temporarily drain the tank to glue the corals, Birdnest corals are very sensitive to emersion. When exposed to air, they sometimes croak. In addition, they do not like growing downwards.

If a beginner can master the Birdnest coral, then the livelihood of their aquarium is that much more ensured. As a relatively tame species, this stony polyp can be placed almost anywhere in your tank and grow out their pink, purple and green small tree extensions.

Birdnest Corals Optimal Requirements:

  • Water pH: 8.1 – 8.4.
  • Alkalinity: 8 to 11 dKH
  • Specific gravity: 1.024 to 1.026
  • Temperature: 74 – 80 degrees Fahrenheit (23 – 26 C).
  • Phosphate: <.01 mg/l
  • Calcium: 380 – 450 mg/l
  • Lighting: High.

Care level: Easy to moderate

Read more about it in my article “How to Care for Bird’s Nest Corals”

9. Xenia Corals (Xenia sp.)

Xenia Corals (Xenia sp.)The Greek name for hospitality very rightfully brands this coral and demonstrates precisely why it is so beloved amidst beginner coral enthusiasts.

Xenia corals boast an intricate tree-like structure which allows them to flaunt their colorful limbs even in the slowest of currents. These corals are typically thin and long, they have a set of eight tentacles at their ends lined by small branches.

These polyps can form a wonderful addition to any aquarium floor by allowing one to perceive their captivating faint pulse which has earned them the appellation of Pulsing Xenia. This phenomenon is entirely unique to Xenia corals and still fascinates owners and scientists to this day.

Their impressive ability to grow in almost any water and lighting also marks one of their downfalls. The unmatched speed with which these corals are able to spread will fill your tank rapidly but may also make them into a nuisance if not trimmed properly.

As long as one is able to keep their colonies in control, they will launch any beginner aquarium in record time.

Xenia corals absorb nutrients from the water. Therefore, if you are planning to add a lot of activated carbon to their aquarium system, think twice. In the best-case-scenario, they will simply stop growing.

Although these corals will not directly harm others, they can outgrow and simply shade them out.

Note: The only active care required by these corals involves their handling which should be done with gloves to avoid exposing them to any form of stress. This can put them at risk of bacterial infections as they undergo a natural reaction producing large quantities of mucous.

Xenia corals Optimal Requirements:

  • Water pH: 8.2 – 8.4
  • Alkalinity: 7 to 12 dKH
  • Specific gravity:024 to 1.027
  • Temperature: 75 – 80 degrees Fahrenheit (23 – 26 C).
  • Phosphate: <.01 mg/l
  • Calcium: 400 – 450 mg/l
  • Lighting: High

Care level: Easy

10. Montipora Corals (Montipora sp.)

Montipora Corals (Montipora sp.)Any avid reef observer will be familiar with the Montipora Coral’s vivid plateaus (also called Velvet coral, Velvet rock coral or Encrusting velvet coral). Their thin membranes are known for growing in and around each other to form clusters of colorful balconies growing above your aquarium floor.

Montipora Corals are essentially covered in multitudes of small polyps which give rise to this coral’s fascinating velvety texture. Not only will their sizeable neon ‘plates’ work as the perfect centerpiece for new tanks, but they are also appreciated by beginners for their rapid and voluminous growth.

Montipora Corals are extremely hardy. Although they will survive in most water currents and lighting conditions, meaning that they will not require any sophisticated LED display. It is still recommended to use intensive lighting with them to keep their beautiful colors.

The only parameter they are truly sensitive to is the level of calcium in the saltwater tank. Keeping it up will promote their healthy growth as well as give rise to their wonderful array of colors. Once grown out, their fragments are easy to harvest and preserve for further propagation.

Although the extended red, green or pink surfaces of the Montipora Coral are sure to steal the show, they will also steal much of the light surrounding them. Care should, therefore, be taken when placing them as they will significantly reduce the lighting reaching anything growing below them.

Note: Montipora Corals are not considered to be aggressive and should instead be protected from any hostile corals to avoid damage.

Montipora Corals Optimal Requirements:

  • Water pH: 8.1 – 8.4
  • Alkalinity: 8 to 10 dKH
  • Specific gravity:024 to 1.026
  • Temperature: 75 – 83 degrees Fahrenheit (23 – 28 C).
  • Phosphate: <.01 mg/l
  • Calcium: 380 – 440 mg/l
  • Lighting: high

Care level: Easy

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