Marine corals are ethereal beauties that seem beyond the reach of most aquarists. They are often expensive and demanding of both ultrapure water and high intensity lighting. But many soft corals don’t need either of these things, just a bit of food and little else.
Kenya Tree Corals are just such a coral. Beginner-friendly, beautiful, and easy to propagate, they are a great first coral for the saltwater hobbyist!
What is Kenya Tree Coral?
Kenya Tree Corals are part of the family Nephtheidae, a group of nearly identical looking corals that fortunately have very similar care requirements. Generally they are cream to brown in coloration but a pink variety has become extremely popular in the trade.
Kenya Tree Corals are one of the most bullet-proof corals you can find. They don’t require ultrapure water. In fact, it’s downright bad for them, which makes them very appealing to beginners. They don’t need specialized metal halide or actinic lighting and they are forgiving of lax coral supplemental minerals.
In fact, they sometimes become pests because even if you scrape them away from rocks they can regenerate from a small cluster of leftover cells.
Like nearly all corals, Kenya Tree Coral forms a symbiotic relationship with single-celled zooxanthellae (microscopic algae) that live inside of its own cells. A symbiotic relationship is where two organisms work together for mutual benefit.
In this case, the coral provides a home, light, protection, and nutrients for its algae symbiotes. And in exchange the algae gives the coral some of its sugars, helping it through lean times.
Many corals can actually survive entirely on this exchange but Kenya Tree Coral aren’t one of them. They rely more heavily on feedings and will become stressed if you go too long without supplemental food and keep them in conditions that lack dissolved nutrients.
Still interested? Then let’s talk more about how to care for Kenya Tree Corals!
- Common Names: Kenya Tree Coral, Cauliflower Coral, Broccoli Soft Coral
- Scientific Name: Capnella sp.
- Origin: East African coast
- Size: Up to 1 ft. in diameter
- Aquarium Volume: Any
- Temperament: Semi-Aggressive
- Ease of Care: Very Easy
Caring for Kenya Tree Coral
With their delicate appearance and high status in the marine hobby, corals are often seen as impossible for new aquarists. Fortunately, Kenya Tree Coral is one of the best corals for beginners to try out!
Coral colonies aren’t too limited by space requirements. What’s mostly important is ensuring that there is plenty of space for other corals if you’re going to keep them with Kenya Tree Corals.
This species is a more aggressive type of coral. It reproduces quickly, stings its neighbors, and even produces toxic molecules that inhibit the growth of other corals, especially stony corals.
If you let your Kenya Tree Coral get out of hand it’s likely to disable or kill its neighbors in a smaller aquarium. Therefore it’s a good idea to continually prune it back, keep a close eye on its food sources, and remove any clones it drops to keep the tank from being overrun by this coral.
Aquariums 30 gallons in size or larger are recommended if you intend on keeping Kenya tree Coral with other species. The extra water volume ensures it won’t brush up against its neighbors so easily. Also, you have some water buffering capacity to deal with the noxious chemicals it releases.
One reason Kenya Tree Coral is so easy to care for is because it can’t survive in the ultra pure water that experienced marine reef keepers provide. Much like Pulsing Xenia Coral, Kenya Tree Coral needs a bit of grime to feed on in the form of dissolved nutrients and organic molecules.
Many corals can survive solely on their zooxanthellae but Kenya Tree Corals are not one of these. They depend a lot more on feeding than other corals – and their need for food makes them especially beginner friendly. Messy aquariums will have much more dissolved nutrients for them to feast upon.
Kenya Tree Corals otherwise prefer standard marine aquarium conditions. A temperature of 72-78℉ and a pH of 8.0-8.24 are comfortable and easily maintained. While they aren’t stony corals they do have structures called sclerites embedded in their flesh.
These are tiny calcium bodies that provide structural support for the coral. Combined with the gastrovascular canals that hold and release seawater, the coral can inflate or collapse using a fluid support “skeleton.”
Since the sclerites are composed of calcium the Kenya Tree Coral does need some supplemental minerals added to their water like stony corals. Levels between 350-450ppm will ensure your coral can maintain and add to its support structure.
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A solid coral water supplement provides the calcium they require as well as magnesium, which makes calcium bioavailable. Other essential minerals include strontium, though it’s not known exactly why corals require it.
Phosphorus levels need to be at or close to 0ppm to avoid fueling the growth of competitive algae. Nitrate is tricky because in large enough doses it is toxic but it is also a vital nutrient for coral zooxanthellae. You should aim for more than 0ppm but under 10ppm.
So long as you have a mature biological filtration system and fish to add more nitrogenous waste products, you should have some trace nitrate for your Kenya Tree Coral to feast on!
Lastly, this species prefers moderate to high rates of water flow. You’ll know if there is too much current as the coral will retract into itself. But Kenya Tree Corals love more flow than most species since they get so much of their food from the water column.
Kenya Tree Coral Water Conditions
- Temperature: 72-78℉
- pH: 8.0-8.24
- Specific Gravity: 1.023-1.025
- Alkalinity: 9-12 DKH
- Calcium: 350-450 ppm
- Magnesium: 1200-1350 ppm
- Nitrate: 1-10ppm
- Phosphorus: 0ppm
Lighting for Kenya Tree Corals
Since Kenya Tree Corals rely more heavily on food sources it doesn’t need lighting as intense as other corals. Moderate lighting is more than enough for this species, in the neighborhood of 75+ PAR.
More may bring out additional pink and even green tones in your coral, especially if paired with 10,000K actinic lighting. But too much light may actually cause the coral to retract its polyps to protect its cells from radiation damage.
Feeding Kenya Tree Corals
Kenya Tree Corals are hungrier than most of their kind. Nearly all corals get some level of sustenance through their algae partners. But Kenya Tree Corals rely more on feeding than photosynthesis.
Therefore, you’ll need to take into account their eating habits. In the wild they feed on a mixture of microscopic phytoplankton, “marine snow,” which is essentially floating detritus, and dissolved organic compounds. Aquariums are rich in detritus and dissolved organics compared to the pure conditions of coral reefs, giving Kenya Tree Coral an easy shot at dominating the aquascape.
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A weekly or biweekly dose of reef phytoplankton is all that’s needed to keep these corals fed. Combined with the organic waste your fish and other invertebrates create, your corals will be thriving.
If you have stony corals and other species that are highly sensitive to dissolved waste products then its better not to add large doses of food. Instead, you can target feed the corals that need it. This in turn reduces the amount of leftover food that eventually rots, adding to ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels.
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With their love of detritus and organic molecules, Kenya Tree Corals are also excellent additions to a saltwater refugium! A refugium is like a living protein skimmer, absorbing organics via living organisms just as it’s done in nature.
Refugiums typically contain LED lighting as well to fuel the growth of macroalgae and soft corals. Small crustaceans like gammarus and copepods can also be raised in large enough numbers to feed your fish.
Kenya Tree Coral Aggression
As I mentioned earlier Kenya Tree Coral is one of the more aggressive species. It will readily sting nearby corals to control their growth and may even kill sensitive species. It also tends to drop clones of itself in an attempt to colonize nearby living space as quickly as possible.
A single Kenya Tree Coral can cover most of the ground in a smaller aquarium in just one year! While it does sting neighboring corals it doesn’t attack with sweeper tentacles like some of the more aggressive Euphyllia sp. It’s reach is limited to its polyps.
These corals also release unidentified noxious compounds that slow the growth of neighboring corals. This way the Kenya Tree Coral can grow over its competitors before they have a chance to get their own defenses in place.
The exact identity of these molecules is unknown. But they are likely similar to the terpenes released by Toadstool Corals and other soft corals. Terpene compounds are found in quite a few familiar organisms across diverse branches of the tree of life.
Pine trees use terpenes to keep boring insects from damaging their wood and termites squirt them in their wars against ants. Terpenes are of great interest to science because many of them have anti-cancer properties by slowing cellular growth and division. Exactly what Kenya Tree Corals want to do to their neighbors…
Placing activated carbon in your filter can remove these terpenoids as can frequent water changes. The downside is that it also removes the other dissolved organic molecules that the Kenya Tree Coral relies on for food. But so long as you spot-feed the coral occasionally it will be able to make up for the lost organics.
Tank Mates for Kenya Tree Coral
Kenya Tree Corals are easy to keep alongside any reef-safe fish or invertebrate. In fact, assuming you have a coral that’s taking over the tank, you might want to include one or two fish that enjoy picking at them to curb its growth, such as Butterflyfish (Chaetodontidae) or Peppermint Shrimp (Lysmata wurdemanni).
Reef-safe fish include most Damselfish, Clownfish, Gobies, Blennies, and Tangs. Angelfish are not reef-safe as they love grazing on sessile (non-moving) invertebrates. But when well fed with plenty of macro algae, many Dwarf Angelfish (Centropyge sp.) can work well in reef tanks.
As mentioned before, you can keep Kenya Tree Corals alongside other coral species. Just be aware of their many defense mechanisms and how to avoid stunting the growth of the weaker kinds.
Good Tank Mates for Kenya Tree Coral:
- Tangs, Clownfish, Damselfish, and other Reef-safe Fish
- Pygmy Angelfish (with caution)
- Shrimp, Starfish, Sea Urchins, Crabs, Snails, and other Invertebrates
Poor Tank Mates for Kenya Tree Coral:
- Butterflyfish and other fish that eat coral polyps
- Peppermint Shrimp and other coral and anemone-eating invertebrates
- Sensitive Stony Corals
Propagating Kenya Tree Coral
Assuming your Kenya Tree Coral is satisfied with the water conditions you provide it’s almost impossible to prevent them from multiplying. In nature these corals can reproduce both sexually and asexually. However the sexual mode of reproduction relies on lunar and tidal cues that they don’t get in the aquarium.
Asexual reproduction, on the oher hand, is both easier and more predictable. The coral will clone itself dozens of times during its life and you can also take it upon yourself to frag the coral into new pieces.
Periodically the coral will either leave pieces of its fleshy pedal base around or drop off entire branches with polyps attached. These fragments of flesh will then attach themselves nearby (or get carried a short distance by the current) and reform into new Kenya Tree Coral colonies.
If you want to curb the growth of your coral it’s essential to pick out these fragments as soon as the coral drops them. Once new frags attach themselves, if you’re not meticulous about removing any pieces of flesh, the pulp will likely regrow over time.
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Alternatively, you can also clip pieces of the coral using a coral fragging kit. Small pieces of the Kenya Tree Coral can be attached to frag disks or bits of coral rubble by tying them down with plastic mesh. The coral will grow through the mesh and form new polyps in days.
If you end up clipping large numbers of polyps it’s a good idea to give the coral a brief iodine bath to prevent infections from erupting on the open wounds. Otherwise the coral will recover quickly in just a few days!