When visitors come to see my tanks and realize that the tanks are full of live coral one of the questions I get frequently asked is “So what’s your favorite coral?” To me that is akin to asking me, who is your favorite child. As with my children I love them all.
I consider myself the Will Rogers of reefkeeping in that I have never seen a coral that I did not like. And it is especially hard in that I have tanks of sps corals, soft corals and lps corals and even a nano tank full of zoas. So I can’t even really pick one type of coral over another, I like each type and every type for different reasons.
However, after driving around for work lately I have had time to think and narrow it down a bit, but even when narrowing it down I realized that I like a bunch in each group, so for this reason my favorites for this article will be the sps corals that are my favorites, with an emphasis on Acropora, Montipora and Stylophora.
When coming up with my favorites list I tried to come up with corals that were more than beautiful to me, but that also became favorites for some significant reason. Some of these were my favorites 20 years ago and are still my favorites today. Some I have lost and don’t have any more, but as always want back, while others have been in my tanks in some form or another for a long time.
I tried not to pick the most expensive corals out there so the Walt Disney or Homewrecker tenuis aren’t on my list nor are other beautiful but expensive ones like Maleficent or Mother of Pearl. Hopefully when you read over my list you will understand the history of some of them and why they will always be some of my favorite sps corals.
The first of the corals to make my list and probably the easiest is the Paletta blue Acropora. While blue corals are not anything to get excited about today, back when I first got this one in the early 1990’s blue Acroporas were few and far between.
In fact, when I first got this coral it was not blue at all, but was just a typical brown stick, which is what most Acropora looked like then. At the time I was bringing in boxes of Acroporas for my friends around Pittsburgh and nearby areas as there was no internet shopping nor really any pictures of colorful Acropora then.
I would either fly out to Los Angeles and go to Aquatic Depot on a day when a shipment of corals were coming in from Fiji, pick out a couple of boxes and fly home with them on the red eye or I would drive across the state of Pennsylvania and head to Ed’s in East Stroudsburg and pick up boxes of corals from him.
At the time, fist-sized colonies sold for around $75-125 and most of these were various shades of brown or beige. If the colony showed any type of color, usually only at the tips, the price would be much more.
After one of these trips to Ed’s I brought home a couple of boxes and as was the custom when I got home a few other Acropora aficionados, a polite way of saying fellow addicts, were waiting and we divided the spoils. As always the “colorful” corals went first and while we split things for the most part evenly invariably I would end up with a couple of strays at the end that were not that colorful.
In the case of the Paletta blue it was as chocolate brown as a coral could be so nobody wanted it. I did not even want it, but I never killed a coral, so I just placed it in a back area of my 240- gallon tank under 10K halides and VHO Actinic lights and forgot about it.
About six months later I was moving corals around and fragging some before I went to speak on coral propagation at GARF, the coral farm run by Salle Jo and the late Leroy Headlee when I came upon the most beautiful blue coral I had ever seen. To be honest, I did not remember it and knew I did not place a blue coral in my tank, but I did recall that I had placed a couple of corals at the back of the tank behind live rock, as they were not impressive and I did not want to kill them, but this was so much more colorful than any of my other corals so for the first time the lighting and conditions we were maintaining had changed the color of a wild coral.
Before I left I fragged a piece of this coral to bring out to Leroy, as one thing about him was that he never lost a coral, so I knew if I gave it to him it would be safe. You could give him one polyp and he would baby it and eventually grow it out into a colony.
Over the next 6-9 months he grew this coral out and made some additional frags of this coral and eventually he put some of them up for sale. At this time, blue corals were relatively rare so this became a popular coral. Since we did not know the species of this coral at the time, it looked like either an A tenuis or an A vermiculata he did not call it a blue anything but rather he called it the Paletta blue Acropora, since I was the source for it.
So this was one of the first corals that were named for someone, and this has since become the norm in the hobby in order to try and keep a coral’s origin intact. I am kind of embarrassed to have corals named after me, as I used to take pride in knowing the Genus and species of a coral in order to identify it rather than a marketing name, but I understand that it can serve a purpose.
I only wish I still had at least a frag of this coral as I lost my colony at least a decade ago when I lost most of the corals in my 1200-gallon tank during my change in marital status. So hopefully since this coral was so widely distributed someone out there still has it. I should note that this coral is highly variable in terms of its color. Depending on how much light it is receiving and the spectrum it can be anything from deep blue or purple to green blue with purple highlights. So keep that in mind if you get a frag of it and it changes once you place it in the tank.
While the Paletta blue coral is a relatively rare coral today another favorite of mine is probably one of the most common and one that I have probably given away the most frags of of any coral I have had. The Bali green slimer is probably one of the most easily recognizable corals in the hobby, but because it is common and “just green” it does not get the oohs and aahs that a lot of the named corals get today.
It is one of my favorites for several reasons with the biggest being that it grows fast and because of it color and robust growth it was one of the first corals that really was a showpiece in my early tanks. This may not seem like a big deal now, but as I said when we first started getting in Acroporas there were few colorful ones available and the Bali green slimer was one of the first.
Also back then we were happy just keeping Acroporas alive let alone growing. Many of us still recall the comments of dive masters at the time, not to touch any coral as it took decades for them to grow even an inch. So for many of us when we started keeping Acroporas we took this to heart and did not expect to see much growth let alone rapid growth.
So when we started keeping this coral successfully we were shocked when once it started growing it did so robustly. So much so that for many of us it was one of the first corals that we propagated and did so on a large scale. It is interesting now looking back as one of the reasons it got its name is that because when we did propagate it breaking off a piece produced so much slime it was overwhelming.
You had to let it settle for a few days before mounting it or shipping it or it would kill itself with its own mucous. Despite this I probably gave away several hundred frags in those days and it became the coral that almost everyone at that time had in their tank. I still have a nice sized colony in my tank that came from my old 240-gallon tank over 20 years ago.
Not all of my favorite corals are Acroporas as I love Montiporas just as much. Of the Montiporas the one that is probably my favorite is the infamous Leng Sy Cap. This coral was first grown out by Leng Sy of Ecosystem and Miracle Mud fame in the mid 1990’s. Back then plating Montiporas were a rarity and Leng had some of the first and most beautiful colonies of these that I have ever seen.
In 1996 when I first visited him and saw his tank, and his unique way of maintaining it, and the many unique fish and corals housed in it I immediately fell in love with these corals and especially the purple rimmed green plating colony that was the showpiece of his tank.
Unlike the other plating Montiporas in his tank, this one not only had a beautiful contrasting rim, but it also grew spires that jutted out from the main colony unlike the scrolling or plating Montiporas nearby. Leng gave me a frag of it and also distributed frags to several other reefkeepers as well.
Unfortunately, almost all of us lost this coral over time. This was probably due to few of us being able to grow it in the conditions it required to produce the bright purple edge and the spires and also due to us losing interest due to so many other corals coming on the scene over the years. However, for those of us that remembered it in all of its glory it became one of the holy grails of the corals we wanted to keep.
Fortunately a year or so ago Cruz Arias and Julian Hechavarria of Elegant Corals announced that they still had the original and had a colony of it that they were willing to share with the reefing community. I was lucky to get a frag and have not seen it growing in my and other’s tanks and had it confirmed by Leng that this is indeed the original, which Leng gave a frag of to Cruz almost 20 years ago. While there are many other green caps with purple rims out there, I am quite happy and thankful that this one is back. And for all of these reasons this is why it is one of my favorite corals.
Another of my favorite sps corals is also an Acropora that carries my name, and again I did not name it after myself. It is the Paletta pink tip Acropora. This coral is not only quite unique and colorful but also has an interesting story behind it. In the late 1990’s I was writing a lot about coral propagation and I got a phone call from someone who I didn’t know who asked me to write an article for him on doing sps coral propagation on a large scale.
He was interested in setting up a coral farm in the ocean near where he lived. He would not tell me where that was, and he also said that since he knew of my love for sps corals instead of paying for this article he would send me a box of corals that would be worth it to me. So since I saw this potentially being beneficial two ways I wrote the article and sent it to him. Two weeks later a box arrived at my home full of corals.
Getting corals at my door was still a big deal and this was an even bigger deal as these corals came from a place where I had not gotten corals from before. In the box were a few soft corals as well as 3 or four sps corals of different types and colors. Of these, one stuck out as it was bright lime green.
I acclimated these and put them in my 560-gallon tank and let them go. The first few started to grow rather quickly and were impressive in terms of their growth right from the start. This one did not seem to grow up or out at all, but instead encrusted a large area all around the base until this encrusting was greater in diameter than the colony above it.
Only once it has encrusted this month did it start to grow. This does not sound like anything impressive and it wasn’t until the growth really started. Once it started growing the tips went from green to vivid pink, and the faster it was growing the linger and pinker the tips became. This coral became a real showpiece in my tank due to the bright pink tips on a light green body, a color combination that had not been seen up until that point.
Because it was such a unique coral I traded and gave away numerous frags of it around the country and it has become the coral that I am known for. From this original main colony, a second smaller colony formed next to it. This was fortunate as during the move from the 560 to the 1200-gallon tank the big colony died and only the small colony survived. I then grew this colony out in the 1200 and continued to send frags of it all over.
I have lost and regained this coral numerous times over the years and each time I get a frag the same thing occurs. It does not grow and show the pink tips until it fully encrusts. This usually takes some time, but once it is fully encrusted it is a fast growing coral. A curious thing has happened over the years with this coral, in that while it is widely available I also now see that any coral that comes in with a green body and pink or pinkish tips is called a Paletta pink tip.
While these corals are similar they are not true Paletta pink tips. Please look at the pictures when you purchase one and it grows out as that is the easiest way to see the difference. The best source for this coral is from World Wide corals as I traded frags with them over 8 years ago and now their colony is almost 2 feet across and it is an original from me as can be seen from how it’s base has encrusted.
Another of my favorite sps corals is the now ubiquitous Cali tort. While this coral is named a tort after many of us thinking it is an Acropora tortuosa in reality it may not be a tortuosa at all. I have seen it get many names in terms of its species, so I no longer worry about whether it is a true tort or not.
I got my first mini colony of this coral in the early 1990’s when Bob Mankin through Dave Palmer were bringing in small maricultured colonies of from the Solomon Islands. This coral was a regular coming from there and it was unique as it was one of the first all purple corals in the hobby.
Under the right lights and conditions, it is as purple as a purple popsicle. However, I should note that like many other Acroporas its color can vary greatly as I have traded frags of mine with people and over a short time when I saw pictures this coral could be deep blue, blue green or even green with purple splotches.
In a couple of cases I did not believe it was the same coral I had given them. When this coral is in the proper environment it can grow rapidly and its interesting shape and purple color make it a showpiece in any tank. I currently have several small colonies of this coral that I have gotten from various sources and there is a great deal of variability in not only its color but also it’s form. As a result, I think that these are probably different “Cali torts” but are all given that name since it is such a popular coral.
The last of my favorite sps corals is another one that probably does not get the appreciation that a lot of the “newer” corals get but it is still one of my favorites. This is probably because when I got it it was not colored like all of the other members of its genus and it is the first coral I got as a really tiny (less than ¼”) frag and grew it out into a robust full size colony.
This coral is the green Stylophora pistillata (?) out of the Solomons. When I got it in the early 1990’s virtually all Stylophoras were pink. This was the first one I saw that was deep green so it stood out from all the rest. I got the frag when I gave a talk at the Western Marine conference in Sacramento.
I got a small frag as the guy who owned it only had a really tiny colony of it and it was not easy to frag so that is what I got. Lucky for me I learned how to baby tiny frags and keep them free of algae and that this coral grew rapidly once it had encrusted. As a result, it has been in my tank for well over 20 years despite the numerous moves and changes in tanks and locations. So for all of these reasons it has remained a favorite.
I know I may seem like an old foggie for considering these corals my favorites as none of them have multicolored polyps nor have rainbow in their name, but for me at least most of them have a story behind them and they have withstood the test of time. Also unlike a lot of corals I see today they do not need blue light or colored filters or anything else to look impressive in my tanks.
Over time I have gotten more jaded in terms of what impresses me in this hobby and having corals that have stood the test of time is one of the things that makes me appreciate a coral. As I was writing this I came up with another list of my second group of “modern” corals that are on my list of favorites. Somewhere down the line I will do an article on those. And hopefully before I have kept them for 20 years like I have these.