There’s an inexplicable calm that captures, almost automatically, anyone who looks into the depths of a masterfully crafted reef tank, where strange and vibrant sea creatures glide past striking coral fixtures. The best tanks could easily pass for mini-ecosystems, harvested straight from the sea floor. Equal parts majesty and mystique, the greatest aquariums transfix without effort, transporting onlookers deep within an alien oceanscape.

Just as a lifelike portrait is impossible without the proper palette, a gorgeous reef tank’s ambiance can’t develop without a colorful coral selection. Coral isn’t just a decoration, however, coral is very much alive, and it can be very temperamental (and extremely expensive) if not chosen with care. In the interest of sparing you the headache of dead fish and unnecessary costs, I’ve laid out a list of some easy to care for corals that are great introductions to the watery world of reef tank creation and maintenance.

  1. Mushroom Corals – A common coral type which is also one of the easiest to keep. Named for their resemblance to the fungus, these corals are identifiable by their large cap and small stem. They thrive in low to medium light and water movement, and can tolerate changes in water parameters and quality. Mushroom corals can be fed phytoplankton, but don’t usually require feeding.
  2. Alcyonium – These corals tends to group in small, finger shaped colonies, prefer low-to medium water flow and moderate lighting, and come in a range of colors. Alcyonium also have a self-sufficient food production mechanism, so they don’t need to be fed.
  3. Cladiella – Native to the Indo-Pacific, Cladiella corals live in areas of moderate currents and light levels. Their colors include various shades of off-white, with green or brown polyps. Cladiella primarily self-produce food, but may also eat phytoplankton.
  4. Button Polyps – This type is most comfortable in moderate to high water flow, and likes a higher light intensity. These corals contain a powerful toxin that can cause pain, illness and death, so be sure to research proper procedure before handling.
  5. Pulse Corals – Equipped with pulsating polyps and eight tendrils, pulse corals prefer medium-high lighting; they also self-feed, as well as eating various plankton, and are generally non-aggressive.
  6. Star Polyps – Recognizable by their purplish, matted growth pattern, Star Polyps can handle most lighting but do best under brighter lamps, and medium to high water movement. Star Polyps can grow quickly, but aren’t aggressive.

**For a more detailed list, check here