What you choose to start your reef tank with can ultimately determine how you feel about the hobby over time. Buy some hearty and fast growing coral and you'll get hooked as your new reef tank settles in - ie. develops a healthy mix of bacteria and becomes more stable over time.
On the flip side, if you invest in high-cost / highly sensitive coral that die on you, you may throw your hands up in defeat with a bunch of expensive equipment.
Where do you start?
Here are five easy starter corals that can help you start off on the right foot. Oh, and they can be beautiful too.
Leather coral are extremely hearty and easy to care for. They also grow pretty quickly and are easy to propagate, so they can be inexpensive also.
Typically found in shades of green, purple, and brown, they can offer a striking array of color and shapes to your aqua scape.
They only require low to moderate lighting and flow. We broadcast feed our leathers with BRS Reef Chili a couple times a week. But, you may not even need to feed them at all if you have a moderate nitrate level in your aquarium.
Mushrooms are not technically a coral and in fact look a lot like anemones. Most are very easy to care for and require little attention.
With a wide array of colors and textures make them a great addition to the beginner tank. Bright greens, blues, pinks, and oranges with bubbles and warts that offer plenty of options while keeping costs down.
Surprising to some beginners, these innocent looking guys can sting nearby coral so be careful about placement. They also spread in tanks with good water conditions so placing them on a rock in the sand or a larger structure away from other future corals is advised.
Chances are that if you've seen a reef tank recently, it contained zoanthids or "zoas." These small polyps come in an endless variety of colors and patterns. In our opinion, few things look quite as stunning as a well kept zoa garden in a small reef tank.
Zoas can survive in a range of conditions but do require a decent nutrient level in the water. We grow ours under moderate lighting and flow but have some beautiful patches in our display tanks in areas that seem to only get reflective lighting.
Prices can vary greatly for zoathids depending on color and demand but even the lower cost specimens are generally very pretty.
Zoanthids spread pretty fast when happy and provide a great looking foreground, backdrop, or undergrowth in a mixed reef tank.
The trumpet, or candy cane, coral is a great beginner large-polyp stony coral. Their lighting demands are fairly low and can be fed sparely and still grow quite fast. Typically, purchasing a single to a few heads will result in a nice colony within a year.
Usually available in shades of green or purple, trumpet coral is generally an inexpensive yet beautiful LPS coral.
Placement us usually lower in the tank and away from other corals as this coral may have sweeper tentacles that can sting neighbors. However, as aggressiveness goes, they are not that worrisome.
Bubble corals have a special place in my heart and display aquariums. They are one of the first corals I kept successfully in the late 90's and are incredibly interesting to look at and feed. They are always a crowd favorite.
They are also a pain in the butt because of how aggressive they can be. Keep them away from everything. Their tentacles at night can be long and sting anything in reach.
Bubble coral come in brown, blue, and green varieties. The most striking is a marbled toxic green. There are also varieties with large grape sized bubbles or smaller pea sized ones.
They morph from a harmless bunch of grapes into an evil looking mouth with big, menacing tentacles just before lights out. Feeding bubble coral is always fun to watch. They will accept just about anything they can grab, especially chunks of shrimp or other frozen food, and slowly maneuver it into their big gaping mouth in the middle of their bodies.
Guests always love watching a bubble coral feed.
Favia and Favites - These small brain coral spread across rocks and can be found in many colors. They can be a little bit more finicky so we kept them off the top five list but are generally an easier and inexpensive beginner LPS coral.
Lobophyllia Brain Coral - Also one of my personal favorites due to my early reefing experiences. I love the colors and shapes of a healthy lobo. Again, these can be a bit finicky and sometimes die off with little reason if an aquarium isn't quite stable. Cost may also be a limiting factor with lobos.
Trachyphyllia Open Brain Coral - Very similar to lobos, the trachy is a bit "meatier" and can have a more "abstract" color morph when compared to the lobo. They get big, can be super colorful, and are incredibly interesting to feed like the bubble coral. Although not quite as menacing.
Acanthastrea / Micromussa - Due to a taxonomy change, most "acans" are now classified as micromussa. You'll still find them referred to as acans by many people out of habit. They come in many beautiful colors and are a reefer favorite.