Top 6 Beginner Corals for Reef Tanks

Best Corals For Beginners

One of the most iconic parts of a tropical saltwater aquarium is the coral landscape. Though corals have the appearance of colorful rocks, they are actually living, breathing organisms.

As any tropical saltwater aquarist can attest, keeping coral healthy long term requires diligence and careful maintenance. That doesn’t mean that coral is out of reach for beginner aquarists; it just means that you need to make sure that you have done your research before adding coral to your tank.

Top Easy & Hardy Corals for Beginners

1. Mushroom Coral

Mushroom Coral

  • Placement in Tank: Bottom to Middle
  • Diet: Photosynthesis and filter-feeding
  • Temperament: Semi-Aggressive
  • Lighting: Low to Moderate
  • Water Flow: Low to Moderate

Mushroom Corals are some of the most common corals in the private aquarium trade because they are inexpensive and arguably the easiest to care for. Mushroom Corals grow quickly and are known for their wide berth of colors and patterns.

Because they do not create a calcified structure like many other corals, they require a substrate to attach to and prefer to be in the lower water column in an area with slow water flow.

Mushroom Corals are also great beginner corals because they coexist well with most aquarium inhabitants, including fish, crustaceans, and motile invertebrates. However, they can be territorially-aggressive with other corals and sessile invertebrates, so it is best to give them their own section of the tank.

2. Brain Coral

Brain Coral

    • Placement in Tank: All
    • Diet: Photosynthesis, supplemented with zooplankton
    • Temperament: Aggressive
    • Lighting: Moderate to Bright
    • Water Flow: Low to Moderate

Brain Corals are hardy corals that, as the name implies, looks like hard, pastel-colored brains. Brain Corals come in a wide variety of colors and textures, making them an easy addition to any themed aquarium.

Brain Corals are an easy coral for beginners because they are incredibly hardy and can withstand a large variation in water chemistry and temperature.

However, Brain Corals are on the aggressive side, so they must be given plenty of room to grow. The easiest way to keep Brain Corals from harming other corals in your aquarium is to separate them from other corals with sandy substrate. This way, their sweeper tentacles will not be able to reach their neighbors.

3. Bubble Coral

Bubble Coral

    • Placement in Tank: Bottom or Middle
    • Diet: Photosynthesis, supplemented with filter-feeding
    • Temperament: Moderate
    • Lighting: Low to Moderate
    • Water Flow: Low to Moderate

Bubble Coral is one of the unique corals on this list. The calcified skeleton of the coral is green and white. Unlike other coral species, the polyps of Bubble Coral leave the skeleton by inflating, giving them the appearance of bubbles or balloons.

The polyps of the Bubble Coral are typically white, pink, purple, or green. Though the polyps resemble bubbles, Bubble Coral is far hardier than its namesake. It will thrive in the changing conditions of a beginner aquarium.

Bubble Coral prefers to be in the low water column where the light is less intense, and the water current is slow. However, it has also been known to thrive in quicker currents as long as the other water quality parameters are sufficient.

4. Green Star Polyps

Green Star Polyp

    • Placement in Tank: Anywhere
    • Diet: Photosynthesis, supplemented with phytoplankton and zooplankton
    • Temperament: Aggressive
    • Lighting: Moderate to High
    • Water Flow: Moderate to High

Green Star Polyp Corals grow as clusters of star-shaped, green polyps on a deep purple, rubbery mat. When placed in a tank with moderate to high water flow, the Green Star Polyp Corals resemble a field of grass blowing in the wind.

Green Star Polyp Corals are great starter corals because they are inexpensive, easy to find, and virtually indestructible. While they prefer stable conditions, they are forgiving of changes in water chemistry and temperature.

The biggest challenge with Green Star Polyp Corals is their prolific growth rate. If left unchecked, they will quickly overtake the entire tank. Therefore, it is best to isolate them on their own rock or regularly trim them down with a razor blade.

5. Toadstool Leather Corals

Toadstool Leather Coral

    • Placement in Tank: Bottom or Middle
    • Diet: Photosynthesis
    • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
    • Lighting: Moderate
    • Water Flow: Moderate

Toadstool Leather Corals are light brown corals with wispy, bright-colored tentacles that grow in the shape of inside-out mushrooms. Their bright tentacles provide beautiful movement in an otherwise stationary tank, making them a great centerpiece for a coral aquarium.

Because Toadstool Leather Corals do not have the standard calcified skeleton associated with most corals, they have stinging tentacles that protect their territory from neighboring corals. As a result, they need to be placed in an area slightly separated from the other corals in the tank. However, as long as they have their own space, Toadstool Leather Corals are content in tanks with varying water conditions.

Don’t let the small polyp you initially buy deceive you- Toadstool Leather Corals get large. Therefore, it is best to place them in the bottom half of your tank where they will not be able to block the light from other corals around them.

6. Trumpet Coral

Trumpet Coral

    • Placement in Tank: Bottom to Middle
    • Diet: Photosynthesis, supplemented with zooplankton and brine shrimp
    • Temperament: Peaceful
    • Lighting: Moderate
    • Water Flow: Moderate

Trumpet Corals have one of the unique appearances of any of the corals in this list. The calcified skeleton of the coral extends numerous branches out from a central base. Each branch contains a large green, blue, or tan polyp that expands far larger than the skeleton, giving each branch a distinct trumpet-like shape.

Trumpet Corals can be finicky when initially added to a tank. So it is best to place them in the lower part of the tank until they are acclimated and then move them to their permanent location.

However, once they are acclimated, Trumpet Corals are incredibly hardy. They can thrive in polluted and cloudy tanks, making them an ideal coral for the beginner aquarist.

Tips for Maintaining Coral

Corals are small marine invertebrates that work together to form compact colonies that are typically protected by calcified structures. While the structures they create are physically strong, the polyps themselves are extremely susceptible to changes in the environment.

Therefore, it is essential to maintain a stable environment in your aquarium if you want your coral to thrive. When creating a habitat for your coral, it is important to monitor the following environmental conditions carefully:

Water Quality

Corals require stable water conditions. Make sure you monitor the following conditions weekly:

Ammonia and Nitrite

As living organisms within your aquarium, eat and defecate, they produce ammonia. Bacteria in the tank then break down the ammonia to nitrite and nitrate. Ammonia and nitrite are toxic to corals and can cause health issues if present at elevated concentrations.

The best way to control ammonia and nitrite levels in your aquarium is to add nitrifying bacteria that break down the ammonia and nitrite into the less harmful nitrate.


Though less toxic than ammonia and nitrite, nitrate can still negatively impact your coral’s health if present at high concentrations. In general, you want to keep the nitrate in your tank below 10 parts per million (ppm). Nitrate can be removed from the tank through regular water changes.


The pH of a coral aquarium should be kept between 8.3 and 8.4. The pH should be checked weekly, and if outside of this range, a water change should be performed.

Other Considerations

In addition to the water quality considerations above, you should also check the calcium, carbonate hardness, and phosphate levels in the tank regularly. These chemicals are all necessary for healthy corals.


Corals are naturally located in the warm waters of the tropics. As such, your aquarium should be kept between 72 and 780 Fahrenheit (F). To maintain a consistent water temperature, use water heaters with thermometers, and keep your tank away from the window, doors, and air currents.


Most of the corals that are used in saltwater aquariums form symbiotic relationships with zooxanthellae. These small photosynthetic organisms live inside of the coral’s body.

The zooxanthellae give the coral its color. They also provide the coral with nutrients they obtain through photosynthesis. For this photosynthesis to occur, the zooxanthellae require specialty reef aquarium lighting that provides a consistent light source.

Final Thoughts

Though corals require maintenance and patience, they should not intimidate new aquarists. Like any living creature that you add to your tank, it is important to do your research and ensure that you are giving your corals the best chance they have for success. If you give them the attention they deserve, corals will enthusiastically take your aquarium aesthetic to the next level.

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