Your One-Stop Guide To Kenya Tree Coral 

Apr 20, 2022

Your One-Stop Guide To Kenya Tree Coral

Image credit: Bondolo (CC License)

I’m not going to mince my words. Raising corals is hard – a lot harder than raising fish and other inverts. Corals are expensive and demanding – demanding of both high-intensity lighting and ultrapure water at all times. 

Thus, they’re not really suited for everyone. Especially if you’re a beginner, it’s a big no-no. 

But what if I tell you there exists a stunning coral that’s hardy as they come – almost bulletproof – and can propagate with very little care and food?

Yes, it exists. And it’s known as Kenya tree coral. 

This care guide will entail pretty much everything you need to know about Kenya tree coral. It’s going to be a long ride. Hop on! 

Kenya Tree Coral At Glance 

  • Name: Kenya tree coral
  • Other Names: Cauliflower coral, Nepthea coral, Broccoli soft coral
  • Scientific Name: Capnella sp.
  • Family: Nephtheidae 
  • Origin: East African coast
  • Size: Up to 1 ft. in diameter 
  • Care Level: Very easy 
  • Fragging: Very easy 
  • Photosynthetic: Yes
  • Need To Be Fed: Yes 
  • Status: Not listed on IUCN Red List for endangered species

Kenya Tree Coral Natural Distribution 

The Kenya tree coral comes from the Indo-Pacific Ocean and the Red Sea.

Like other corals from the Capnella genus, these corals tend to grow on deeper reef slopes where the water current is strong. 

They like it when the current is strong, as it will help the fragged branches float away and create new, larger colonies. In the wild, their colonies can cover up to 19 feet (6m) of stone and coral substrate in an area. 

Kenya Tree Coral In A Nutshell

Credit: Emoke Denes (CC License)

Kenya tree coral was first described in 1869 by Gray. That’s over 150 years ago! It belongs to the Capnella genus of soft corals in the Nephtheidae family.

At least 20 different corals belong to the Capnella genus, and they pretty much look identical and have the same care requirements. 

These corals are pretty easy to care for. But the trade-off here would be aesthetics. Compared to some other corals, these are somewhat drably colored in shades of brown and gold.

These days, the rarest and most desirable Kenya tree corals have a vibrant green or pink color that fluoresces under blue actinic lighting. 

Kenya tree corals are hands down one of the hardiest and easy-to-look-after corals available in the trade. They’re often described as ‘bulletproof.’ Now, that might be an exaggeration, but you get the point right. 

Unlike most corals, Kenya tree corals don’t call for ultrapure water. As a matter of fact, pristine water is downright bad for them. And by the way, they don’t require actinic lighting or specialized metal halides. 

They are also a lot more forgiving of the lack of coral supplements. Well, they’re so forgiving that they sometimes become unsolicited pests as they can regenerate and propagate prolifically even from a small cluster of leftover cells once you’ve scraped them away from rocks. 

Like almost all corals, Kenya tree corals have a symbiotic relationship with single-celled zooxanthellae (microscopic algae) that live inside their cells. 

It’s a beautiful interspecies friendship where both parties benefit from each other’s presence. The algae receive light, protection, nutrients, and a home. The coral gets sugar from algae – helping it survive through lean times. 

Desperate times call for desperate measures! 

Hmm… the only drawback I can think of right now when it comes to raising these inverts is that they need to be fed regularly. They can’t live off just the sugar provided by the algae. 

So, that’s about it, to put it briefly. Interested to know more? Keep reading! 

Kenya Tree Coral Appearance 

As you can tell by the moniker, Kenya tree coral has an erect tree-like structure with intricate lateral branches that are heavily forked. 

On top of each branch is a cluster of polyps that are non-retractable. The stalk or short base looks smooth without polyps, but it has sclerites that make the surface rough. 

If you’re wondering what sclerites are, these are tiny calcium bodies the size of rice grains that support the coral. Therefore, they give the surface a rough and rugged feel instead of a slimy feel.

Within the branches and stalks are ‘gastrovascular’ canals that let them expel water and collapse. 

Generally, Kenya tree corals are gray with brown polyps. But as mentioned above, they can come in beautiful shades of pink and green too. Interestingly, these corals are known to change color over time. 

The color intensity depends on light intensity. The higher the intensity of light, the lighter the coral’s colors. And blue lighting is known to bring out more green and blue colors. 

Lastly, they are known to form flatter colonies with short branches in stronger currents. 

How Big Do Kenya Tree Corals Get?

Kenya tree coral grows to a decent size. It can grow anywhere between 6 to 16 inches (15 to 41 cm). 

Appropriate feeding, lighting, and water flow are essential to ensure your Kenya tree coral grows to the maximum size possible. 

Is It Difficult To Care For Kenya Tree Coral?

As I mentioned above, Kenya tree corals are some of the easiest corals to look after and raise. However, since these corals come from nutrient-rich environments, they rely pretty heavily on foods like phytoplankton, more so than light. Thus, regular feeding is necessary. 

These corals don’t need to be kept in bright lights – thus, there’s no need for metal halides. However, they love and need turbulent water flow. 

All in all, caring for Kenya tree coral is quite easy. It’s not a piece of cake, but anyone equipped with the right knowledge and a bit of experience can successfully do it. 

Just don’t expose it to freshwater when topping off the tank. It will stress the coral and possibly lead to its eventual demise. 

Minimum Recommended Tank Size For Kenya Tree Coral

The minimum recommended tank size for Kenya tree coral is 30 gallons. However, I’d recommend getting at least a 55-gallon tank to ensure it won’t brush up against its neighbors quite easily. 

55 gallons will also give you some water buffering capacity to deal with toxic chemicals they release. 

If you plan to raise other corals alongside Kenya torch coral, you need to ensure plenty of space to accommodate everyone.

It may be easy to look after, but it’s an aggressive breed of coral that will sting its neighbors, reproduce prolifically, and even stunt others’ growth – especially stony corals.

I scoured through a few forums and can now conclude that if you let Kenya tree coral get out of hand, it will almost always disable or kill its neighbors in a small tank. So get the biggest tank possible.

Thus, it’s best to continually prune it, keep a watchful eye on its food source, and swiftly get rid of any clones it drops to the tank to keep the tank from being overrun by this coral. 

Water Parameters For Kenya Tree Coral 

  • Temperature: 73-82 degrees F (22.7-27.7 degrees C)
  • pH: 8.2
  • Alkalinity: 8-12 dKh
  • Salinity: 1.023-1.025
  • Ammonia: 0 PPM
  • Nitrites: 0 PPM
  • Nitrates: Under 10 PPM
  • Calcium: 250-450 PPM
  • Magnesium: 1200-1350 PPM 
  • Phosphorus: 0 PPM

Kenya tree corals are recommended for beginners because they can’t survive in the super-pure water most experienced marine reef keepers strive to provide. 

Like Pulsing xenia coral, Kenya tree coral requires a bit of grime in the water to feed on in the form of dissolved nutrients and organic molecules. And naturally, messy tanks have much more dissolved nutrients to feast upon. 

Just because Kenya tree coral falls into the soft coral group, one can’t leave calcium out of the mix. As we have already discussed above, the central stalk with sclerites is made up of calcium. 

Maintaining the calcium level between 350-450 PPM will ensure the proper growth of these stalks. 

Buy a reliable coral water supplement that provides both calcium and magnesium to the corals. Another essential mineral that these corals require includes strontium. 

The phosphorus levels should be maintained close to 0 PPM to discourage algae growth.

Maintaining the nitrate level can be tricky. It is detrimental to the corals in large doses, but it is also an indispensable nutrient for coral zooxanthellae. Therefore, the nitrate level should be greater than 0 PPM but less than 10 PPM. 

As long as you have a well-established, mature biological filtration system and a couple of fish to create nitrogenous waste, there will always be some nitrate for your Kenya tree coral to feast on. 

Water Flow For Kenya Tree Coral 

This coral species loves and needs moderate to high rates of water flow. Water flow is critical because the coral gets its food from the water column. 

However, if the current is too strong, the coral will retract into itself. 

Lighting For Kenya Tree Coral 

Kenya tree coral relies heavily on direct food sources for nutrition. Therefore, it doesn’t need lighting as intense as some other corals. Moderate lighting would be more than enough for this coral species. 

Aim for 75+ PAR.

Intense light can bring out the coral’s stunning pink and green tones, even more so if paired with 10,000K actinic lighting. 

However, too much light can cause the coral to retract its polyps in a bid to protect its cell from radiation – leading to starvation. 

Placement Of Kenya Tree Coral 

The best location for your Kenya tree coral is an area that receives a moderate-high water flow and moderate lighting. Somewhere within the periphery of the light halo from the LEDs can be the ideal spot. 

They love strong currents because they’ll sweep those branches with polyp clusters right where the drifting nutrients are easiest to reach. 

And when it’s time to multiply, it’ll simply nip and transfer the bud into an ideal location. This is a fantastic strategy for ensuring one’s lineage in the wild but can quickly lead to a coral infestation in captivity. 

They can still thrive in somewhat stronger lighting or weak currents as long as they’re allowed to properly acclimate.

But unless you’re up to tackling Kenya tree coral infestation, you should keep them under moderate flow conditions. 

Feeding Kenya Tree Coral 

Like most corals, Kenya tree corals have more than one way of consuming food. 

First, they can capture microscopic food particles from the water column. Second, they can absorb dissolved organic matter. And third, they have a symbiotic relationship with marine algae, aka zooxanthellae, who offer nutrients and nourishment. 

Thus, you need to consider all 3 of their eating habits. In the wild, they primarily snack on microscopic phytoplankton, also called marine snow, which is basically floating detritus and dissolved organic compounds. 

And since closed systems like aquariums naturally have more detritus and dissolved organics than pristine conditions of coral reefs, Kenya tree coral has an easy chance at dominating the aquascape by far and large. 

From what other hobbyists reported, Kenya tree corals are hungrier than other kinds of corals. Therefore, while most corals get a required level of sustenance from their algae partners, Kenya tree corals rely more on direct feeding than photosynthesis. 

A weekly or biweekly dose of reef phytoplankton, marine snow, or microplankton is all that is required to keep your Kenya tree coral thriving. This, combined with the organic waste your fish and inverts create, will be more than enough. 

Keep experimenting with different kinds of ‘green waters’ to see which phytoplankton species they prefer. 

Kenya tree corals also make great additions to a saltwater refugium thanks to their undying love for detritus and organic molecules. A refugium is basically like a living protein skimmer that absorbs organic wastes via living organisms, similar to how it’s done in the wild. 

A refugium comes equipped with LED lighting to fuel the growth of macroalgae and soft corals. You can also raise small crustaceans like copepods and gammarus to feed the fish. 

And by the way, if you have fish like tangs and surgeonfish that eat macroalgae or crustacean-eaters like Mandarin gobies, a refugium offers a constant source of fresh and live food. 

Is Kenya Tree Coral Aggressive? 

Yes, Kenya tree coral is pretty aggressive. It’s known to sting nearby corals and give off chemical toxins to stunt the growth of other corals in the vicinity. Apparently, it can downright kill sensitive specimens. 

But even then, it turns out the Capnella genus is the least toxic out of all genus in the Neptheidae family. 

That being said, they’re also equally susceptible to the chemical toxins released by other corals. 

Kenya tree coral is known to drop clones of itself and propagate quickly to colonize nearby living spaces as early as possible. From what hobbyists report, a single Kenya tree coral can grow and cover most of the ground in a small tank in just a year. 

And while Kenya tree coral does sting its neighboring corals, it doesn’t attack with sweeper tentacles as Euphyllia sp. does. That’s because its reach is limited to its polyps. 

As I mentioned above, these corals give off unidentified, toxic compounds that stunt the growth of neighboring corals. 

What molecules exactly make up these toxic compounds is yet to be known. But scientists believe they are pretty similar to the terpenes released by toadstool coral and some other soft corals.

Let me deviate from the topic a little. Pine trees produce terpenes to keep insects from destroying their woods, and termites use them in warfare against ants. 

Now terpenes are of great interest to science due to their anti-cancer properties, slowing cellular growth and division. 

And that’s exactly what Kenya tree corals do to their neighbors. 

Placing activated carbon in the filter and performing frequent water changes helps to dilute and remove the terpenes from the water. 

However, the more water change you perform, the lesser the amount of dissolved materials your coral has to feed on. But as long as you are spot-feeding the coral occasionally, it will make up for the lost organics. 

Kenya tree corals also arm themselves with stinging cells. As they drop branches and encroach the territory throughout the tank, they defend their new territories. 

Now combine that with a torch coral’s insane growth rate. No wonder other corals have a hard time surviving in a Kenya tree coral’s vicinity. And that’s why some hobbyists affectionately call the Kenya tree coral a weed. Haha! 

Tankmates For Kenya Tree Coral

Kenya tree corals may not be a good match for fellow corals, but they can be kept alongside any reef-safe fish or invert. In fact, owing to their overly colonizing tendencies, hobbyists often add one or two fish that love nibbling on them, like the butterflyfish. 

Here’s a list of tankmates for Kenya tree coral:

  • Damselfish
  • Gobies 
  • Clownfish
  • Tangs 
  • Blennies 
  • Starfish 
  • Sea urchins 
  • Crabs 
  • Snails 
  • Dwarf angels 

Remember, you can only add dwarf angels as long as there are plenty of macroalgae to feed on. But, unfortunately, the big ones have a thing for grazing on sessile inverts.

And here’s a list of poor tankmates for Kenya tree coral:

  • Butterflyfish 
  • Parrotfish
  • Fish that eat coral polyps
  • Peppermint shrimp 
  • Anemone-eating invertebrates 
  • Sensitive stony corals 

It’s not like you can’t keep Kenya tree corals alongside any other coral species. But just be mindful of the many defense mechanisms they deploy and the possibilities of stunting the growth of weaker corals. 

Fragging Kenya Tree Coral

Like the rest of the corals from the Capnella genus, Kenya tree coral can reproduce by budding, fission, and dropping small branches.

Given that the Kenya tree coral in your aquarium is well satisfied with the tank’s living conditions, it’s almost next to impossible to prevent them from reproducing. 

In the wild, these corals can bear offspring both sexually and asexually. Since the sexual method depends on the lunar cycle and the tidal cues, they can’t breed this way in the tank. 

However, asexual reproduction is both predictable and easier. Even without any help, the coral can clone itself dozens of times during its life. The coral will routinely leave pieces of its fleshy pedal base around or drop off entire branches with polyps attached. 

These fallen fragments will then adhere to nearby surfaces and begin their new life. 

However, you can also embark on fragging the coral into new pieces. 

The easiest way of fragging is to use a cocktail pick, a plastic toothpick, or a similar pointy item to impale the frag right through the middle of the stalk, quite far enough from the incision point to ensure it doesn’t tear through. 

Next, after repositioning the coral frag ½ way through the impaling device, you can use either super glue or rubber bands on each side of the pick to fasten it to a rock.

This holds the coral in place – hence, allowing it to adhere naturally. 

If you’re pruning the invert, have a quick iodine bath ready to prevent any further infections from attacking the open wounds. 

And by the way, if you’re looking to curb the coral’s growth, you should pick out these fragments as soon as the Kenya torch coral drops them. 

Otherwise, once the new frags attach themselves and if you’re not too keen about removing any pieces of the flesh, the pulp will most likely regrow over time. 

Problems With Kenya Tree Corals 

Although deemed as the easiest coral to raise, Kenya tree coral can throw a curveball in a hobbyist’s path every once in a while. If you’re someone who has a fair share of experience with leather corals, you can skip this segment. If not, you might want to skim through it. 

Slime Production

Kenya tree coral belongs to the group called soft corals, sometimes also known as leather corals. Its otherwise smooth stalk can have a leathery look under certain conditions. 

You can see the same texture along the branches when the polyps close. And something you might see when these polyps close is a thin, transparent ‘slime’ oozing out of the coral. 

Is it gross? Um… maybe. Is it a concern? Not really. 

Leather corals secrete a ‘mucus tunic’ as a defensive measure that shields them against debris, algae, and other microorganisms. It’s not dangerous or toxic – just a normal part of a Kenya tree coral’s day. 

If kept in an area with high water flow, the secretion can go unobserved.

TL;DR – That clear slime your coral produces is not a sign of illness. In fact, it prevents illness. 

Drooping 

Kenya tree coral may not have the best mobility skills, but it sure is quite expressive. Some days it will shrivel up and look sad, while other days, it will inflate double its size. 

As these corals have a tree-like structure, it’s only natural that some days the branches will droop like a willow tree’s. If this happens and the coral returns to its normal state after a couple of days, don’t worry. 

Drooping is normal, expected behavior and crucial for that self-propagation technique. 

However, if you find the coral drooping more than usual or consistently shrinking, it may be a telltale sign of something grim. 

Dying 

Kenya tree corals can live for several decades in just about any aquarium. But that doesn’t mean they’re invincible. If consistently exposed to subpar environments, the coral is very much capable of dying. 

A healthy colony of coral looks’ puffed up’ and inflated with water. The branches are extended and look pretty fuzzy because of the extended polyps. 

But if the coral looks shriveled for several days, it’s going to be a concern. 

If your coral doesn’t open itself within a few days, you have to figure out what’s causing the disturbance and solve it. Maybe a neighboring coral is stinging it. Perhaps an overexcited clownfish is bugging it. Or maybe it’s positioned under lights too bright. 

A Kenya tree coral that is dying will slowly wither over several weeks – breaking and dissolving into water. If you suspect the coral is dying, remove it and frag it in an isolated tank. 

Before we end this article, let’s have a look at the pros and cons of keeping Kenya tree coral. After that, the choice is yours to make. 

Advantages Of Kenya Tree Coral:

  • Super hardy 
  • Very easy to look after 
  • Adapts well to most reef conditions 
  • Easy fragging 
  • Not very costly 
  • Readily available 
  • Grows rapidly

Disadvantages Of Kenya Tree Coral:

  • Super difficult to get rid of 
  • Propagates very easily 
  • Requires frequent pruning 
  • Difficulty keeping them in one place

Final Words: Kenya Tree Coral Guide 

I am yet to raise a Kenya tree coral, but it’s been on my bucket list for too long. So, the next time I create a saltwater setup, I’ll be gifting myself a Kenya tree coral. 

These corals may not be the prettiest ones out there, but they definitely are the hardiest. If you’re searching for a low-maintenance coral that propagates easily, too, a Kenya tree coral is what you need. 

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rohit gurung author at urbanfishkeeping

About Rohit Gurung

My never-ending love and fascination with Aquascaping started when I received a red-eared turtle for my 10th birthday.

Apart from researching and writing, I spend hours gazing at my 3 turtles. And yeah, I bask alongside them too.