15 Stunning Corals That Grow in a Beginner Reef Tank

Corals are mesmerizing creatures. They come in various shapes, sizes, and vibrant colors. There’s no shame in wanting to grow a piece of coral reef in your house. There are literally thousands of species of corals to choose from when building a reef tank. So, as a beginner, it can be quite difficult to know which ones to pick.

In this article, I am going to name the 15 best corals for beginners and briefly discuss each of them. If you are looking for inspiration and want to find your first corals to add to your reef tank, you’re in the right place. So, without further ado, let’s get right to it.

1. Pulsing Xenia

Xenias are thought to be one of the fastest-growing soft corals. They grow like a mat spread on the floor which looks spectacular. They need low light, low flow, and are photosynthetic. But of course, extra food is always good. Like many other corals, pulsing xenias also give swaying movement. That is where their name derives from.

They have polyps that closely resemble a human hand. When placed in medium current, the polyps open and close like hands, exhibiting a pulsing rhythm. Hence, they are called Pulsing Xenia. This phenomenon is so astonishing that you won’t know how it is, till you see it.

2. Mushroom Corals

Mushroom corals are one of those handful corals that disdain high flow water and strong lights. They have wide varieties of colors and are fast growers. You can have a tank full of mushrooms in no time. They grow well on rocks, so rock placement is important. Placing them in a slightly dark place and still water will facilitate their growth.

Mushroom corals are photosynthetic and also can capture their own prey. They have various species like red mushrooms, blue mushrooms, spotted mushrooms, pink mushrooms, etc. Red mushrooms are bigger so you can use them to fill up your tank quickly. Blue mushrooms can survive extreme conditions, which means a little indifference will not harm.

Pink mushrooms, due to their unique color provide excellent contrast with any mushrooms in the tank. You don’t have to worry if you have vagile creatures in the tank. They are completely safe with mushroom corals. However sessile organisms can fall prey to these mushrooms. So, if you have other corals, place them at a distance.

3. Zoanthids

Zoanthids are very popular corals and are admired by many aquarists. They look like a mat of beehives spread on the ocean floor. They come in numerous colors that aren’t similar to each other. These soft corals grow relatively fast compared to others. They thrive in low light and medium current, making them excellent for newbies.

However, if you can provide powerful light, that will yield better results. Zoanthids make their own food which is glucose by photosynthesis. They can do it with lowlights, but some extra lights won’t do any harm. Also, supplemental foods like zooplankton or phytoplankton shall help them spread.

Zoanthids are fast growers. If you don’t want a tank full of them, keep an eye on the growth rate. As for placement, you can put them anywhere from top to bottom. If you don’t want to pay heed to their growth rate, that’s okay too. You can have a tank full of them which will look awesome.

Beware of palytoxin though, the toxic neurochemical can be pretty harmful. Zoanthids can excrete a nasty poison if handled incorrectly. Read my article called “How to handle corals” for more information.

4. Leather Corals

Sinularia, commonly known as leather corals is another huge genus of corals. It has more than 150 species. They come in many different colors like pink, purple, yellow but often they are green like plants. They grow fast and can become huge, so you might have to trim them. A special type of trimmer available for corals, but you won’t likely need them in the first year.

Leather corals prefer water flow rather over stagnant water. But the flow has to be turbulent, not linear. As they do not have a skeleton and soft, the turbulent flow shall make them sway in a unique pattern. You will feel just like you feel when you see corals in the deep sea in a national geographic documentary.

You will often see that leather corals have their polyps retracted and their body is coated with a jelly-like substance. Judging from the appearance, one might easily think that they are sick due to some reason. But it is actually a way of cleaning themselves with a natural detergent. Leather corals are known to attack others, so keep them somewhere away.

5. Bubble Corals

Bubble corals are one of the toughest species that you could ever find. They are called bubble corals due to obvious reasons. They look like a cluster of small balls or bubbles, giving them a very unique appearance. This unique look pairing with the fact that they need very little care, makes them one of the most suitable corals for beginners.

They need moderate to low water and lighting. If you can provide that, they are guaranteed to thrive. Also, don’t be fooled by the name though. They are not only a bunch of bubbles lying around. They have tentacle-like projections as well. In moderate water flow, these tentacles will give swaying movement, just what you want.

When placing, make sure you place them in the middle of the tank. It is because if you place them near the walls, they might scuffle against the hard surface. As a result, the tentacles might be torn apart. The bubble might be also damaged. Place them in darker parts of the aquarium. Their unique color and distinctive appearance make them a great contrasting coral.

6. Frogspawn

Frogspawn corals are a member of the large polyp stony (LPS) corals. They have a long tentacle with a frogspawn like a shape at the tip. This is why they are named frogspawn coral. This genus of corals is highly resilient and can take almost anything you throw at them. These corals do not come in any single color making them a very dazzling addition to any aquarium.

Frogspawns require mild water flow and light but that’s not rudimentary. They grow fast, but not fast enough to require regular trimming. They are aggressive and will very likely attack other corals. But you can place them with hammer or torch corals as they take very kindly to the members of the same genus.

Place them in the middle of the tank and make sure they have ample space in the surrounding area. Frogspawns spread more than 6 inches at night so the additional space is a must. There is a variant called Octospawn. They are lighter, pale, and more expensive than frogspawns. If you are not on a budget, you can look for those.

7. Hammer Corals

Hammer corals are a member of the Euphyllia genus. They are very popular corals for novice aquarists. They are very hardy and can take adversities. Lightings and water flow are not a major issue for them. Hammer corals are known to be highly aggressive but friendly towards their brothers. Their hammer-like polyps are easier to take care of than wall formation.

Even though they are aggressive, they do not prey extensively. So, for additional nutrition, you will have to find food supplements. As for water parameters, they prefer low magnesium contents. Anchor coral is another name for hammer corals because the polyps resemble anchors. So, don’t be confused when you hear the name.

Hammer corals have several morphs, the most common being the cheapest one and vice versa. You can find the cheaper ones online or at any local fish store. As for the rare morphs, you might have to look a bit harder. They are not readily available online. You can look for them in large fish stores in big towns or cities.

8. Green Star Polyps

These exotic-looking corals totally resemble a mat of grass thrown in the aquarium. They grow very fast so beware. Also, they can withstand any level of lighting and water flow. So, it’s safe to say that green star polyps are a very suitable choice for any beginners trying to grow corals at their home.

Tip: grown GSP coral on it’s own isolated island. It will overgrow the entire rock it grows on. If you create an island by placing the rock with GSP on the sand bed, it won’t grow out of control.

As for water parameters, iodine and aluminum oxide are believed to have detrimental effects on them. These chemicals are found in some filter sponges that you would use when setting up the tank. So be sure to get rid of those if you don’t want an early demise of the stunners. These highly affordable corals are available at almost every fish store.

When in medium to low currents, their movement looks like wind blowing over grain fields. One of the most notable attributes is that green star polyps are so tough that they are often called indestructible. If you want a tank full of corals, green star polyps can be one of your top choices any day.

9. Toadstool Corals

Toadstools are hard and tough. If you want something hardy among soft corals, you can always consider toadstools. Scientifically known as Sarcophyton, toadstools have many species that you can grow in an aquarium. Toadstool mushrooms, weeping willow toadstools, and toadstool leather coral are some of the popular corals.

Sarcophyton are very adaptive to diverse water conditions. They display wonderful swaying motions which even fishes are an admirer of. Toadstool mushrooms corals look like toadstool mushrooms, so are the weeping willow toadstool corals. Weeping willow corals also work as an excellent filter as they soak any excess nutrients.

They grow very rapidly and create unique patterns. They give you the feeling of something random and weird in your aquariums. One thing to remember is that they produce palytoxin which is harmful towards other hard corals as well as fish or plants if any.

10. Duncans

Duncan corals have several other names like Whisker corals, Duncanops corals, Branched disk coral, etc. They are one of the most highly preferred choices as starter corals due to their unique look and moderate growth. They prefer high flow and light but do well even if there are shortcomings.

A great thing about Duncan corals is that they do not grow extensively. So, you can take time to plan and decorate your aquarium. Another great thing is that they react instantaneously to varying degrees of water parameters. So, these corals can also work as an indicator. Excess food shall cripple them by growing algae on polyps. So be careful of that.

These LPS corals display the signature swaying movement so you won’t be disappointed. They are photosynthetic but small protein type foods will boost their growth. Duncan corals are not naturally aggressive, so they are prone to be consumed by fishes. A little discretion is advised when placing other fishes in the tank.

11. Open brain corals

Open brain corals are also known as lobed brain coral, flat brain coral, etc. They don’t have any tentacles. They look like a lobe of the brain lying around. Just by their look, you can tell they are tough and resilient. These super hardy corals are very suitable for beginners, thanks to their adaptability to any conditions.

These corals do well in moderate lights and water flow. However, if adequate water current and lights are provided, they can grow well in captivity. Open brain corals are mostly admired for their bright red appearance which is facilitated by bluish lighting. They are easy to mistake with a glowing piece of the human brain.

Open brain corals are photosynthetic, which means they get their food by the symbiotic relationship they have with the algae zooxanthellate. But they are also a sucker for extra foods like krill or other small fishes. They also feed on bacterioplankton, zooplankton, etc.

12. Colt corals

Colt corals are sometimes called by names like finger corals, Kenya corals, etc. They appear like a tree trunk having finger-like projections all over. But don’t be fooled by the creepy description though. They look unbelievably great in saltwater aquariums. Many enthusiast aquarists still prefer growing colt corals.

They grow extremely fast. If you want to plant and forget, colt corals have got your back. Moderate lights and water flow is recommended for optimal growth. They are photosynthetic but rely heavily on supplemental foods. So, make sure you give some extra food. They are animals after all.

13. Trumpet corals

Another excellent LPS coral for beginners is trumpet corals. They are members of the Euphyllia genus, also known as torch coral. They are relatively smaller than many others on this list. So, if you opt for smaller tanks for some reason, you can choose to grow trumpet corals. They offer varieties of bright colors, are affordable, and available. You can look them up in any online shop.

They are named so because their polyps are shaped like a trumpet. These corals are very peace-loving creatures, so you don’t have to worry about them fighting with other corals. Trumpet corals need bright lighting. As far as water parameters are concerned, they do surprisingly well in dirty waters.

14. Brain corals

Brain corals are hardy, unlike human brains. They are good for starting and offer varying colors. They are rounded and lobe-shaped, resembling a full-grown human brain. They can be placed anywhere in the tank, so rockwork isn’t much of an issue. Brain corals prefer low current and medium lightings.

Brain corals are photosynthetic but also favor some extra foods. Tentacles protruding from their body are venomous and can be used to harm other corals. So, discretion is advised when placing them as well as other corals in your tank.

15. Candy cane corals

Caulastrea or more popularly known as their trade name, candy corals are well known as starter corals. They are branching in nature and possess head-like tentacles suitable for hunting prey. So be watchful as they tend to hurt their neighbors. Candy canes come in many colors like pink, purple, green, etc.

Under optimum conditions, they grow and spread very well. So, placing them at the bottom is recommended. They can survive at varying degrees of water flow and light so don’t worry about those. Lastly, who doesn’t like extra foods?

Conclusion

Anyone who has seen and perceived the beauty of corals would surely want to have those at their homes. Nurturing them can be difficult, but finding the right one can be even more difficult. They come in many sizes, shapes, and characteristics. So, a little heads up before going into the fish store is necessary.

In this article, I have explained the 15 best corals for beginners. I also described how they look, how they behave, what to expect from them, and how to take care of them. If you have done reading this and made your mind, just head toward the nearest fish store without any delays.

Bart Sprenkels

I have been keeping multiple aquariums since I was 18 years old. Just like many of you, I started with two goldfish but quickly learned they were not suitable for aquariums. Later, I switched to a tropical community tank and I also have two pet musk-turtles in a bigger aquarium. You can read more about me here.

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