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Beginners Guide to Soft Coral


by Martin Lister June 21, 2017

Soft Coral are some the easiest species of coral to keep in the aquarium, they grow quickly and often thrive on neglect. That doesn’t mean leave the tank for months on end!  However missing a water change or having less than perfect water parameters won’t be a death sentence either.  Some of the more commonly encountered soft corals include Leather Coral, Mushroom Coral, Zoanthids and Xenia.

Soft Coral can generally tolerate low light (a single white and blue T5 bulb should be enough for most). They also don’t require the same amount of water movement needed in sps tanks, gentle flow is all that is really needed to keep them happy. In fact, high waterflow is often a reason soft corals don’t do very well. Below is a table with the basic water parameters required for soft coral.

Salinity (ppm)

Phosphate (mg/l)

Ammonia (ppm)

Nitrites (ppm)

Nitrates (ppm)

1.024-1.026

0-1

0

0

0-50

 

Mushrooms

You can almost guarantee everyone who keeps coral has owned one of these at some point. There are several species classed under the term “mushrooms”, these include Ricordea, Discosoma and Rhodactis. While several years ago they were considered a boring coral. Some of the more varied morphs have taken the American coral scene by storm and can command prices into the thousands for just a single polyp.

Discosoma Mushrooms and probably one of the most commonly available coral in the hobby, they are also one of the easiest to care for. They come in a multitude of colours, although most commonly encounter colours include, green, blue and red.  Discosoma mushrooms also grow very quickly and can fill a tank if not kept on top of. Higher priced mushrooms seem to have much slower growth rates.

Rhodactis mushrooms appear slightly different from discosoma mushrooms as they flesh is very bumpy when compared to the smooth skin of the discosoma.  They have the same care requirements but often grow slower. They do seem to come in more varied colour patterns but these generally cost more than the standard mushrooms.

Ricordeas can be split into two commonly encounter species the Yuma and Florida both are stunning in their own right, with the Florida being the more popular of the two. Both these species require more stable environments then the ones typically associated with mushrooms. This makes them a trickier species to keep. By no means difficult they can be a good step up if your tank parameters are stable.  Below is a table showing the basic water parameters required for Ricordea success.  Ricordeas benefit from regular feedings but only attempt this if you can keep your water parameters stable with the increased feeding.

Salinity (ppm)

Phosphate (mg/l)

Ammonia (ppm)

Nitrites (ppm)

Nitrates (ppm)

1.024-1.026

0-1

0

0

0-25

 

Ricordea florida require slightly higher light levels than other mushroom coral.

Leather Coral

Leather coral is a name commonly thrown around the hobby. If someone is unaware of the species of the soft coral they own or are selling it usually gets called a leather coral. These require slightly higher lighting that mushrooms usually a combination of a white and blue T5 bulb will be more than enough. Leather corals can also tolerate higher flow than mushrooms.

Leather corals remaining closed for a long period of time once established in the tank is a good indication something is wrong with the tank.

Sarcophyton or Toad Stool Leathers are a very common species of leather. They can be identified by a single stalk turning into a flat top from which polyps extend. They are very easy to care for and can grow very large, with certain species reaching over a meter across. These corals can also be easily trimmed if they are getting too large for your tank. Simply take a paper of scissors and cut a section away, care should be taken to not do too much at once as they do contain toxins that can damage other inhabitants in the tank. Occasionally these corals will go almost waxy in appearance, this is just the coral shedding its skin and is nothing to worry about.  

Clownfish are also known to host the longer polyped species. This makes them an ideal alternative to anemones that can be difficult to care for and move around your tank.

Sinularia often called devils finger, cabbage leather and finger coral is a varied family, with many different growth forms present. They all have similar care requirements to most leather corals. Care should be taken when placing these corals as they can be aggressive towards neighbouring coral. Growth rates vary between species but generally are rather fast and a single coral can easily double in size within a year.

Capnella or Kenya tree is one of the easiest corals to grow and propagate in an aquarium. This coral provides height and movement to any tank. While not the brightest coral around in can be found in both pink and green. Once this coral grows to a certain size, it will start dropping branches off, these branches will float around until they attach to a rock elsewhere in the tank.

Dendronephthya, Strawberry Coral or Carnation Tree Coral. There are several other species that fall under the common name Strawberry Coral or Carnation Tree Coral. These are all Non-photosynthetic meaning they don’t get their energy from light but instead from tiny food particles. While these may be some of the most stunning coral available in the hobby they are also nearly impossible to keep. With very few reports of long term success these are better left in the sea until more research is done into they care requirements.

 Zoanthids

 Zoanthids are very popular throughout the hobby, from the beginner buying their first coral to the collector buying that hundred pound polyp. Coming in any colour combination imaginable zoas are a firm favourite within the hobby. Part of their popularity is down to the ease of their care, which is very similar to a mushrooms. The only noticeably difference is zoanthids can tolerate a wide range of lights and certain morphs thrive under extremely high light. Water parameters should be kept stable, ideal matching the parameters recommend for Ricordeas.  

Care should be taken when handling zoas as  certain species contain a play-toxin which is extremely dangerous. If you have any cuts on your hands it is best not to handle zoas. As a rule of thumb you should wear goggles and gloves if cutting or fragging Zoathids.

Xenia

Xenia has and always will be a popular coral with beginners to the hobby. Often loathed by people who have let it get out of control xenia can be a stunning addition to any display tank. This coral can spread like wild fire so care should be taken when trimming it as loose pieces left in the tank will take hold elsewhere. Large colonies of xenia can crash. It is not known why but it is suggested it is down to a lack of iodine. Not all Xenia pluses and it is not true that pulsing xenia will only pulse in clean water.   

 Hopefully this article has given you an insight into the care requirements of soft coral. Although they are often looked over by more experienced reef keepers they are the perfect stepping stone into the world of coral. They can also make a jaw dropping display in their own right.




Martin Lister
Martin Lister

Author




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