fbpx
For Beginners: Guide to Soft Corals

For Beginners: Guide to Soft Corals

Soft corals are very popular because they are easy to find, and most types are great beginner corals. With so many choices and so many different types of corals that fall under the label soft corals, it is essential to know the upsides and downsides to an individual coral before you buy. This article will cover how to identify soft corals, some practical buying tips, and a breakdown of some of the most popular soft corals, along with their primary care instructions, ballpark cost, and the pros and cons of ownership.

Definition of a Soft Coral

The definition of a soft coral is a fleshy, soft-bodied coral with the absence of a calcium carbonate skeleton. With such a broad definition, soft corals make up a vast and diverse category of corals with a wide range of looks and care levels. Keep this in mind when considering a purchase, as not all soft corals have similar care requirements and tolerance levels.

Pros And Cons of Soft Corals 

The following are common pros and cons for soft corals; however, they do not apply to all soft corals due to the diversity of different species within the category. NPS (non-photosynthetic) corals, for example, typically requires 2-3 feedings per week.

Pros of Soft Corals

  • Hardiness / Harder to kill
  • More tolerant of less than perfect water parameters
  • More forgiving of changes in water parameters
  • Moderate lighting requirements
  • Moderate flow requirements
  • Available in a wide variety of colors and shapes
  • More straightforward care requirements than hard corals
  • Easier to frag and propagate than hard corals
  • Lower price point than hard corals

Cons of Soft Corals

  • Some species can be invasive due to their fast growth rate
  • Many release a chemical when stressed that may irritate other tank inhabitants
  • Fewer color variations than hard corals
  • Less vibrant colors than hard corals

Buying Tips

Before you buy, research the coral you are planning to purchase. When purchasing in a retail store, know what to look for before entering the store as inexperienced employees can sometimes give the wrong information. When purchasing online, make sure the company you are buying from has a solid reputation and reasonable return policy.

Signs of a healthy coral include:

  • Polyps open and fully extended
  • Foot firmly attached to rock or frag plug
  • No discharge
  • No injured areas

10 Popular Soft Corals

Most retail stores will carry a good selection of these soft corals as most of them are considered staples in the hobby. Here is a quick rundown on their care, general cost, and the pros and cons of putting these corals in your tank.

Green Star Polyps (GSP)

Basic Care Instructions: Green star polyps (GSP), a much-loved beginner coral, require a moderate to a high amount of flow and a moderate amount of light. These corals are relatively flexible when it comes to placement in the tank; however, it is essential to have them in an area with enough flow to shed. GSP corals grow a mat/base that the polyps can retreat into when threatened. This mat will occasionally shed a thin layer, and without enough flow, the sloughed-off layer can become stuck, covering and eventually smothering the polyps.

Green Star Polyps (GSP)
Green Star Polyps (GSP)

Estimated cost: $10-$20 for a small frag

Pros of Green Star Polyps (GSP):

  • Readily available
  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to care for
  • Grows quickly
  • Not picky about placement in the tank

Cons of Green Star Polyps (GSP):

  • Invasive and can smother other corals
  • Takes time to adjust to new conditions

Xenia And Pulsing Xenia

Basic Care Instructions: Xenia is easy to find and grows just about anywhere. It prefers low to moderate flow and a low to moderate amount of light. Lower flow rates also accentuate the pulsing Xenia’s unique movement.

Xenia And Pulsing Xenia
Xenia

Estimated cost: $20+ for a small frag

Pros of Xenia And Pulsing Xenia:

  • Readily available
  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to care for
  • Grows quickly
  • Available in several different variations
  • Feeds off nutrients, including nitrates

Cons of Xenia And Pulsing Xenia:

  • Invasive
  • Needs slightly dirty water to thrive

Mushroom Corals

Basic Care Instructions: Mushroom corals compromise a vast category of different species, colors, and mutations; however, most have similar care requirements. Mushroom corals prefer low light and medium to low flow.

Mushroom Corals
Mushroom Corals

Estimated cost: $10-20 for a small “non-collector” frag; collector corals, like bounce mushrooms, can cost over $1000. These were once known as the most expensive coral in the hobby.

Pros of Mushroom Corals:

  • Readily available
  • Inexpensive for common frags
  • Easy to care for
  • Most species grow quickly
  • Available in a wide variety of colors 

Cons of Mushroom Corals:

  • Can cover or block the light for nearby corals
  • Collector species can be pretty expensive

Zoanthids (Zoas)

Basic Care Instructions: Zoathinds prefer moderate flow and medium-light. Sufficient flow to keep them clean is vital as zoanthids can be damaged if debris gets stuck in between the polyps.

Some species of zoas, like Fruitloop Zoas, are known to melt away for no known reason. 

Zoanthids (Zoas)
Zoanthids (Zoas)

Estimated cost: $10-20 for common polyps; up to $100 or more per polyp for collectors corals

Pros of Zoanthids (Zoas):

  • Readily available
  • Inexpensive for common frags
  • Easy to care for
  • Most species can multiply quickly
  • Available in a wide variety of colors
  • Can safely be placed near other zoas

Cons of Zoanthids (Zoas):

  • Potentially toxic; should be handled with gloves and, if fragging, eye protection.
  • Invasive due to fast growth rate
  • Some species melt away with no known cause

Palythoa (Palys)

Basic Care Instructions: Palythoas, otherwise known in the hobby as Palys, are tolerant of many different water parameters and placements. They are related to Zoas. Use caution when handling as they can emit a dangerous toxin if damaged during handling or cut during fragging.

Palythoa (Palys)
Palythoa (Palys)

Estimated cost: $30-100 per frag

Pros of Palythoa (Palys):

  • Most species can multiply quickly
  • Available in a wide variety of colors, including some neon colors
  • Not picky about placement in the tank

Cons of Palythoa (Palys):

  • Palytoxin is very dangerous; handle all Palys with gloves and, if fragging, eye protection.
  • Invasive; can overgrow neighboring corals and become invasive

Cabbage Coral

Basic Care Instructions: Cabbage coral is a leather coral and is happiest in medium flow with medium to high light. Usually placed in the lower areas of the tank because of the possibility of shading the light from other corals as cabbage corals can grow into a decent size.

Estimated cost: $20 – $40

Pros of Cabbage Coral:

  • Easy to care for
  • Not aggressive towards other corals
  • Grows to a decent size
  • Available in a variety of color options

Cons of Cabbage Coral:

  • Can shade other corals due to their size.

Kenya Tree Coral

Basic Care Instructions: Grows quickly and provides more height to the tank than most soft corals. Kenya tree is reasonably flexible on placement and isn’t picky about lighting. Moderate flow is best because it does shed every once in a while.

Kenya Tree Coral
Kenya Tree Coral

Estimated cost: $20 – $30

Pros of Kenya Tree Coral:

  • Easy to care for
  • Provides height to the tank
  • Grows relatively large and waves with the flow in the tank

Cons of Kenya Tree Coral:

  • Drops its limbs to reproduce and can spread quickly.

Toadstool Leather Corals

Basic Care Instructions: The Toadstool Leather is a favorite of many reefers due to its resemblance to an anemone. Commonly, a toadstool coral will also host clownfish. Tolerates variable lighting levels; however, it requires medium to high flow to help them shed and make sure debris does not settle and cause injury.

Toadstool Leather
Toadstool Leather

Estimated cost: $30 – $60

Pros of Toadstool Leather Corals:

  • Easy to care for
  • Not picky about placement in the tank
  • Grows to large and beautiful sizes

Cons of Toadstool Leather Corals

  • Running carbon is required as toadstool leathers release a toxic chemical into the water column as a defense mechanism.

Finger Leather

Basic Care Instructions: Finger leather corals thrive in medium to high light and moderate to high flow.

Finger Leather
Finger Leather

Estimated cost: $50-$150

Pros of Finger Leather:

  • Tolerant of less than perfect parameters
  • Adds movement to the tank
  • Available in a variety of color options

Cons of Finger Leather:

  • Running carbon is necessary to remove the toxic chemical these corals release as a defense mechanism.

Clove Polyps

Basic Care Instructions: Clove Polyps like low to medium lighting and moderate to high flow. They generally do best on the bottom half of the tank.

Clove Polyps
Clove Polyps

Estimated cost: $30 – $50 per frag

Pros of Clove Polyps:

  • Provides movement
  • Grows quickly
  • Available in a wide variety of colors

Cons of Clove Polyps:

  • Invasive; can smother nearby corals
  • Sensitive to coral stings and toxins in the water

Soft corals are a great way to start a tank, but it is also essential to think about the future of your tank when purchasing. If you would like to end up with a beautiful SPS tank, it is probably not wise to add Xenia to your tank, as removing it is difficult. Also, since many soft corals can release chemical defenses, it is wise to run carbon after moving or irritating the coral.

Soft corals are great for beginners. With the proper research, they can be a beautiful addition to any reef!

Have a question or recommendation for us? Feel free to drop us a line here. If you are in the need for saltwater aquarium supplies, Simplicity Aquatics offers a variety of products including protein skimmerspumpsdosing containers and filter media.

Like this article? Share it here:
Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on email
Email
Subscribe to our Blog
Get in Touch
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.