Easy Soft Corals for Reef Aquariums

Ideal for Beginners

Beautiful, live soft corals can be easy to take care in reef aquariums. The soft coral species listed below are good choices for any reef keeper and are ideal for beginning reef keepers to start with. These are hardy varieties that typically adapt well to aquarium life and don't require intense light; most do best with low to moderate lighting and water movement or similar reef tank conditions. And since many corals derive a substantial portion of their nutrition through absorption of nutrients from the water, they actually survive in less-than-perfect water conditions.

  • 01 of 08

    Cladiella Corals

    colt coral

    Paul Starosta / Getty Images

    Common names include: finger leather coral and colt coral

    Cladiella are hardy corals that adapt well to aquarium life. They thrive in moderate lighting and water movement conditions. Corals in this genus are slimy to touch rather than having the dry, leathery feel of most leather corals, yet they are not as sensitive to handling as many soft corals, and are easy to propagate. Because they grow and reproduce so well, they may overgrow other sessile (stationary) reef animals in the aquarium.

  • 02 of 08

    Discosoma (Actinodiscus) Corals

    Spotted Mushroom Coral
    Shawn Richey

    Common names include: mushroom coral, and disc anemones

    Most varieties of discosoma require little light and may, in fact, do poorly under bright lights. These corals obtain much of their energy from active feeding, including trapping and consuming small fish. In an aquarium, they will also consume uneaten food and detritus that is deposited on them by water currents or sand sifting fish.

  • 03 of 08

    Pachyclavularia Corals

    Star Polyps
    Star Polyps. R. Tebben

    Common names include: star polyps, green star polyps, daisy polyps

    Pachyclavularia are sensitive to iodine additions (in the form of Lugol's solution) and aluminum oxide (found in many phosphate-removing sponges). These corals are tolerant of both low-level and bright lighting, as well as varied water currents, and are capable of reproducing and spreading quite rapidly in an aquarium, to the point where it can overgrow other corals. 

  • 04 of 08

    Palythoa Corals

    Button Polyps
    Button Polyps. Cynthia Adams

    Common names include: sea mat and button polyps

    Palythoa do well in areas of rapid water movement. These corals are low light-tolerant but will grow quite rapidly under bright lighting. Their placement in an aquarium should be considered carefully, as they will overgrow most other corals.

    Caution

    Always handle these corals carefully, and wear gloves to protect your skin. They produce a potent toxin called palytoxin. Wash your hands after handling them or working in the aquarium.

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  • 05 of 08

    Protopalythoa Corals

    Button Polyps
    Button Polyps. Joe Martin

    Common names include: sea mat and​ button polyps

    Protopalythoa corals are tolerant of many lighting conditions but prefer bright light, which may produce fluorescent highlights. Some of these corals are active feeders, feeding on large food items, rapidly engulfing and consuming them.

    Caution

    Always handle these corals carefully, and wear gloves to protect your skin. They produce a potent toxin called palytoxin. Wash your hands after handling them or working in your aquarium.

  • 06 of 08

    Sarcophyton Corals

    Toadstool
    Toadstool Mushroom Leather Coral. Phyllis Daniels

    Common names include: toadstool mushroom, mushroom leather, trough coral

    Sarcophyton are hardy corals that prefer low to moderate current, which helps to keep its surface free of parasites and predators. They adapt well to many lighting levels and feed by taking nutrients directly into their cells from the sea water. These corals do well in a reef tank with less-than-perfect water conditions and may suffer in water that has a majority of the dissolved organic compounds (DOCs) removed through protein skimming.

  • 07 of 08

    Zoanthus Corals

    Zoanthids
    Zoanthids. Jonathan Dillman

    Common names include: zoanthid, sea mat, and button polyps

    Zoanthus corals greatly prefer bright light, as they depend on their zooxanthellae for nutrition. They also feed on bacteria, algae, and DOCs. They form colonies of densely crowded polyps attached in a common tissue at the base.

    Caution

    Always handle these corals carefully, and wear gloves to protect your skin. They produce a potent toxin called palytoxin. Wash your hands after handling them or working in your aquarium.

  • 08 of 08

    Alcyonium

    Finger Leather Coral
    Finger Leather Coral. Chris Young

    Common names include: finger leather coral

    Alcyonium are hardy corals that do well in aquariums, but should be provided with bright lighting and good water movement. These corals contain zooxanthellae, but do need to be fed. They may require phytoplankton for best growth, while consumption of zooplankton is reported to be rare. These corals may overgrow other sessile animals.