We get asked this question a whole lot, and it’s a very valid question. The world of reef aquariums are full of beautiful, and fragile species. In this day and age of forums and social media the advice coming from strangers can be so conflicting it’s enough to confuse anyone. I decided to write this up as my personal top 5 picks for great beginner corals.
Mushrooms. Talk about an easy coral to keep, these low maintenance softies are absolutely perfect for the beginner. Some people fall in love with them and are perfectly happy keeping a tank fully stocked with mushrooms. They are extremely low requirement pieces. We recommend low to medium light, and medium flow for success. One of the great thing about mushroom corals is there seems to be and endless variety with every color of the rainbow. They can range from extremely inexpensive to the most expensive specimens such as bounce mushrooms. Low cost or pricey, they’re all easy to keep. Pick your favorite color and have at it.
Zoanthids and Palys. Our number 2 pick is another coral that comes in such a variety and many people set up entire tanks as zoa gardens. These polyps come in hundreds, if not thousands, of patterns with new morphs popping up in the hobby all the time. Zoanthids are extremely tolerant of varying aquariums. High light, low light, and all types of flow will be just fine for the majority of them. As with everything, there are exceptions, but for the most part you can plop them wherever you like in the tank and they usually grow. For best results, give them some space to grow a bit rather than stacking frags right next to each other. In my home display, I have them growing across the sand as a carpet.
Leather Corals. Last of our softie picks are leathers. While not quite as popular as zoanthids and mushrooms, they are just as easy to care for and offer unique shapes and contrast to the mostly round zoas and mushrooms. In our experience, leathers love them some light. They can tolerate low light aquariums fine, but to really see them shine give them a bit more light and more flow. Toadstool leathers are some of our farm favorites. They are low maintenance and easily fragged with scissors when they grow large enough to shade their neighbors.
Euphyllia Corals. Torches, Hammers, and Frogspawns are among the most popular corals on the market, and for good reason. Take anyone that has never seen a reef tank and chances are one of the first corals they will point out in the tank is a euphyllia. With their tree-like stalks and flowy tentacles, they look simply amazing in the home reef. Some corals go in and out of style, but euphyllia is always a contender for top pick. After over 20 years in the hobby both personally and professionally, I have yet to see them go out of fashion in a reef. Euphyllia prefer medium light and moderate flow. While they are an LPS coral, they can tolerate a wide range of calcium and alkalinity levels. Like everything else, the most important parameter is stability. As long as you keep things steady, these gorgeous large polyp stony corals will thrive.
Brains such as trachyphyllia and wellsophyllia. Brain corals are and will always be one of my personal favorites. These big mouthed LPS corals look amazing in the sand when all puffed up. Low to medium light and low to moderate flow and they are generally happy campers. They come in a variety of sizes and shapes and there is a color pattern for everyone. Many beginners with large reefs are looking to fill space without spending a fortune and these guys are a great way to do it. True, some can get extremely pricey, but even the commons are beautiful additions to any reef aquarium.
I’m sure some experienced reef keepers will disagree with this list, but that’s all part of the fun of the hobby. In our experience these 5 corals are perfectly suited to the beginning reef aquarist. They are all low maintenance corals that are extremely tolerant of mistakes. As always, maintaining stability should always be the goal in a reef. Having corals that can put up with some mistakes can be great peace of mind when starting out. Happy Reefing.