10 best beginner corals. You don’t have to be rich to stock a reef tank
The goals with the first tank in its first year are a bit different than the goals with future tanks or years. For a majority of first-time reefers, the biggest goal is simply realizing the dream is possible by keeping your pets alive and growing some easy corals for your first taste of success. So what exactly is an easy coral?
Corals for beginners don’t cost a fortune, are easy to find, colorful, grow fast, and are hardy or tolerant of common new reefer mistakes. These corals are generally considered easy to care for and don’t require a slew of special additives to thrive in your tank.
Ryan put together a list of the top 10 corals for first-timers that we would recommend for any new reef tank owner. Before getting into it, here are a few words of wisdom to keep in mind when shopping for coral.
Common names of corals can be confusing and even over the top at times. With names like Mummy Eye, Gorilla Nipples, and Pineapple Blossom it can be tough to keep up. These fancy designer names can even change between different coral vendors with some attaching a brand name to particular coral strains.
For the most part, these names are used to describe specific genetics of a coral species that are grown in captivity selectively for some desirable trait, most often brilliant colors and adaptability to life in an aquarium. This is one of the fun, collector type aspects of buying and trading corals. What’s in a name you ask, almost everything in this case.
Along with the many names comes many prices. You will notice the prices of corals vary drastically, even within the same species. The list we provided for you is the common name or blanket term used to identify the entire group of corals including all color variants or strains. Within those groups, some corals will be rarer and pricier than others.
These are small polyps that come in all kinds of colors and resemble a small flower. They appear in tight clusters of individual polyps that share a mat of tissue that connects all of the polyps together. Hobbyists become fascinated with collecting the literally hundreds of different color morphs with just as many common names to describe them.
Zoanthids grow fast and tolerate a wide range of light and water quality. With the fast-growing nature of these soft corals, they are often best put on islands down in the sand where they can be controlled so you don’t end up with a tank full of one color zoanthid and nothing else.
2. Sinularia Leather
Sinularia is a type of soft coral that looks like a tree and is often stunning fluorescent green but also exists as pink, purple, red, yellow and various shades of brown/beige. They grow rapidly once established and can get quite large. Thankfully, they are easily pruned with scissors or coral sheers which is likely going to be required within the first 12 months.
Being a soft coral, Sinularia lacks a rigid skeletal structure and will sway with the current inside your tank giving your reef a sense of movement just like you would encounter in the ocean.
3. Weeping Willow Toadstool
The Weeping Willow is another soft coral from a group called “Toadstools”. On that note, most of the corals labeled as softies or leathers are good choices for new reefers. They are hardy and tolerant of less than perfect water parameters. With the fast growth rates, toadstools soaks up unwanted nutrients common with new tanks that arise from overfeeding and/or less than ideal filtration or maintenance.
Perhaps the fasting growing of the soft corals, Xenia, comes in a few varieties with the most popular being the pulsing kind. Like the previous two corals, anything that offers movement in your tank is a cool addition. Xenia takes that to the next level by not only swaying in the current but also has a unique ability to rhythmically open and close its tentacles or “pulse”. Xenia is so prolific that it is best to isolate the colony to islands where it can easily be controlled or pruned back.
5. Green Star Polyps (GSP)
GSP grows in sheets almost like sod or grass, is fast-growing and will encrust almost anything from the tank panels to rocks and even power cords or equipment. When the little polyps are open they move with the current and are brilliant neon green. Just like the others we have mentioned, try and isolate them into areas that can be controlled to prevent them from overtaking your entire aquascape.
Euphyllia is the scientific name for corals like Frog Spawn, Torches and Hammer corals. These are LPS or large polyp stony corals that have large, colorful polyps with fluorescent tips. They are very adaptable and will tolerate almost any location in your tank. They do not grow as fast as some of the soft corals mentioned but still faster than most corals and will not need to be isolated or pruned back very often. Euphyllia will sway in the current when fully extended and a new reef tank seems incomplete without some version of Euphyllia.
7. Bubble Corals
Similar to Euphyllia, Bubble Coral have large colorful polyps that sway, grow reasonably fast and are easily controlled. The unique appearance makes them a beginner favorite because they look like a bunch of bubbles or balloons. A few different strains exist with most of them being white, light pink and neon green in color.
These are beautiful large polyp stony corals (LPS) that do well in all kinds of environments and are very forgiving. They do branch off and grow but not in a manner that is hard to control. This is one of the classics almost every stage of reefer loves, they react to feeding and make a great indicator coral to visually monitor water parameters.
9. Caulastrea (Candy Cane Corals)
Similar to Duncans in growth form, branching Caulastrea often has neon green polyps but there are a variety of other color options. They are easy to care for, are moderate growers in terms of speed and size and do not have any special care requirements outside of sufficient light and water flow.
Likely the easiest to care for coral is mushrooms. In most cases, they are really inexpensive and come in a huge variety of colors. Our only suggested caution with these is they can grow to plague proportions. They grow rapidly and can take over a tank if left unchecked but the upside is they are the least expensive way to fill a tank with corals.
If you stick with this coral shopping list for stocking your tank, you will really increase your chances of growing a thriving reef your first go around. It is so important to get a little taste of success within that first year to keep the excitement going but also instill the confidence to explore the hobby, keep learning and see what else can be achieved as your reef skills develop.
At this point, The 5 minute Saltwater Aquarium Guide is going to transition from phase one to phase two. The first six episodes focused on a basic understanding of WHAT reef keeping is all about and the remaining 20+ episodes focus on the HOW TO aspect. Keep watching to see Ryan apply everything we have learned and put together two reef tanks tailored specifically for beginners.
You can binge the entire 5 Minute Saltwater Aquarium Guide playlist right here on our website. We also invite you to join the #askBRStv Facebook Group which is a free resource for you to ask questions, get advice or simply get your daily reef aquarium fix.