Are you looking for a colorful coral that is also easy to care for? Well, a mushroom coral is a perfect choice when it comes to an easy coral that will also have everyone jealous of your awesome aquarium display!
Mushroom corals are not only easy to care for and grow, but they also come in a variety of shapes and colors, what more could you wish for?!
From the striking green stripe mushroom to the rare bounce mushroom coral, there is a mushroom out there for everyone.
Hopefully, by now you are on the edge of your seat, and definitely should be. Every aquarium hobbyist loves mushroom corals, and soon you will see why – read on to find out more about these epic corals and everything you need to know about caring for them.
What Are Mushroom Corals?
Mushroom corals are animals from the soft coral group. This is because mushroom corals lack a defined calcium carbonate internal structure, they don’t even contain tiny pieces of sclerite which you see in stony corals (LPS & SPS corals). This is why mushroom corals do not have any fossil records, making them even more mysterious creatures.
Mushroom corals are also known as Corallimorphs. Their tolerance to small fluctuations comes from their hardiness, which is why they attract many hobbyists in the reef-keeping world.
- Scientific/Latin Names: Corallimorpharia, Discosoma, Rhodactis, Ricordea
- Common Names: Mushroom corals, mushroom anemones, false coral
- Care Level: Easy, but some require moderate care
- Temperament: Mostly peaceful (some are semi-aggressive)
- Lighting: Low (PAR 50-150) – some require higher intensity lighting
- Water Flow: Low to moderate
- Placement: Lower region, but they can move
- Growth: Usually fast
Mushroom Corals That Are A MUST!
Most mushroom corals are great for beginners, but if you are an intermediate or advanced aquarium hobbyist or you love taking on the challenge, Ricordea mushrooms are a perfect choice.
Reef Tank Advisor’s Top Picks!
- Superman Rhodactis Mushroom (Rhodactis sp)
- Red Discosoma Mushroom (Actinodiscus sp)
- Ricordea Mushroom (Ricordea Florida)
Origins & Habitat
Mushroom corals can be found in most temperate and tropical marine ecosystems because they do not need much light or water flow to survive, but these environments still need to be nutrient-rich. These areas include Australia, Tonga, and Indonesia, with some mushroom corals found in the Caribbean (Florida coastline).
In these habitats, mushroom corals are found encrusted on rocks or any structure they can find, including climbing on top of neighboring corals.
Mushroom corals can also be located in colder waters where the water quality is poor. In these environments, mushroom corals can be seen colonizing dead, barren reefs where they have been destroyed by natural disasters such as tsunamis or by man-made pollution.
Mushroom Coral Taxonomy
All mushroom corals fall into the group ‘Corallimorharians’, but as you dive deeper into their classification and taxonomy, there are some different families, genera, and species of mushroom coral.
Why Are Mushroom Corals Also Called False Corals?
Often, mushroom corals are called ‘False corals’. This is because true soft corals contain small bits of skeleton called sclerites, which are embedded in the coral’s tissue. However, mushroom corals do not have a skeleton, nor do they contain sclerites. Mushroom corals also do not have long, retractable feeding tentacles to capture food like most other corals.
These two reasons are why they are commonly called False corals.
What Do Mushroom Corals Look Like?
As already mentioned, mushroom corals are soft corals with no calcium carbonate skeleton or long stinging tentacles like stony corals, so their shape takes on a funnel, or dome-shaped structure, which is where they got their famous ‘mushroom coral’ name.
Common Distinguishing Features Of Mushroom Corals:
- A body stalk or column resembling a mushroom.
- A pedal disc on the bottom of the body.
- Reduced tentacles along the outer margin and on top of the disc.
- The oral disc is smooth or ribbed with small bumps, coated in heavy mucus, and decorated with tiny cilia to aid with eating.
- The mouth often protrudes or extends outwards.
What Are The Different Types Of Mushroom Coral?
In addition to the above features, each genus has a slightly different appearance.
Discosoma, occasionally known as Actinodiscus, is one of the easiest soft corals to care for because of their hardiness, they are so colorful, and they are very enjoyable to keep! They can easily be found online, or at your local fish store (LFS) under the common names disc anemone or warty mushroom.
- Their surface can be smooth, ridged, or it can have small bumps.
- Their mouth protrudes in the center.
- They come in red, blue, green, and metallic (they are the shiniest of the mushrooms).
- They can be striped or one color.
Ricordea mushrooms commonly go by the names Florida false coral and are a highly desirable mushroom among hobbyists around the globe. Their bubble-like and vibrant appearance give aquariums a unique look. Their popularity comes the ease of finding them online or at LFS. When buying a ricordea mushroom, look for ones that have a healthy size, color, and mouth.
- They can be dull or bright fluorescent.
- Their overall shape is more uniform and bulbous – their tentacles look like grapes.
- They can be one solid color or a combination of red, green, yellow, orange, purple, brown, or pink.
- Their tentacles are longer around the margin, compared to other mushroom corals.
- Their mouth opening can sometimes be a muted color.
- Their mouth opening also seems to be more oval than round.
- Some Richordeas have small bumps (known as verrucae) that cover their oral protrusion.
Corynactis / Pseudocorynactis
Corynactis mushrooms (white/orange Ball Corallimorph, jewel coral anemone). These mushroom corals are impressive predators in the wild, known for feeding and devouring the Crown-of-thorns starfish. Corynactis corals are also interesting mushrooms as they are actually non-photosynthetic, which means that it doesn’t take in nutrients from lighting, instead, it lives off of solid foods alone, therefore these need regular feeding.
The intriguing corynactis mushroom is fairly hard to find online and at LFS, because they are very rarely for sale, so if you come across other hobbyists selling off some corynactis frags, grab them quick!
- Their color combinations are pretty epic! They can be fluorescent, with clear tentacles and contrasting colored tips. These colors include orange, pink, green, and red.
- Their tentacles are club-shaped, or the tips are fringed.
- They are some of the smallest mushroom corals.
Rhodactis mushrooms include the famous Elephant Ear Mushroom. They are seen as an oddity in the coral world because of their close taxonomy to stony corals, despite lacking a skeleton. As they are simple corals to care for, they are great if you are a new reefer. Because of their popularity, they can easily be found online and at LFS.
- Their oral disc is covered in short, split-ended tentacles.
- Their tentacles are radially arranged, which makes them look hairy – hence the common names.
- They come in brown, purple, green, white, orange, with some Rhodactis displaying pink or white mouths, let’s just say, these guys are massive show-offs!
- Their colors are usually contrasting.
Amplexidiscus, like the giant cup mushroom, live on fringing reefs, in exposed and turbid water conditions. They are considered a premium mushroom coral because of their ability to add a significant display in aquariums. You can easily get your hands on these corals online or at your LFS.
As Amplexidiscus mushrooms are piscivores, you should add them with caution if you have a heavily stocked aquarium with small reef fish. These corals impressively release an attractive scent to lure fish into the folds of its oral disc, where it slowly closes around the fish to consume them.
- Their surface is covered in bead-like tentacles.
- Their outer edge is almost translucent and does not have tentacles – they only use the opening and closing of their mouth to feed.
- They come in green, brown, and ivory, which have an ‘ombre’ look, as the colors fade towards their outer edges.
Mushroom Coral Reproduction
The sex life of a coral is complicated. Some corals can reproduce asexually, some sexually, and some can do both.
Mushroom corals reproduce both sexually and asexually, although asexual reproduction is more common in reef tanks.
Mushroom corals can reproduce in four natural ways:
If your mushroom coral reproduces sexually, it will release gametes into the water, wherethe eggs and sperm join and fertilize to form larvae. The larvae then float around the aquarium until it settles, attaching to a rock or substrate, and eventually, turning into another mushroom coral.
Mushrooms that reproduce via budding extend a small part of their foot or stalk, away from its coral base. The tissue that is extended, then attaches to a rock or substrate, detaching from its base, leaving a small piece of its foot or stalk to grow into a fully formed, genetically identical, mushroom coral.
When mushroom corals move, they leave a small piece of tissue behind.
Any small pieces of tissue are part of your mushroom coral’s foot, which is where the term “pedal” comes in. The tiny pieces left behind by your mushroom coral will eventually grow into another mushroom coral.
If your mushroom coral splits itself into two down the center, it is likely reproductive fission is taking place.
When fission occurs the mushroom coral will split down the center until it has split into two halves. Each individual coral will space out, becoming a genetically identical, fully functioning mushroom coral.
For more information on mushroom coral reproduction, check out our article on how mushroom corals reproduce!
Mushroom Coral Growth
Mushroom corals have different growth rates depending on the species you have and the environment it is living in. In the hobbyist world, no reef tank is the same, so it is likely your aquarium setup is different from your friend’s or even the LFS, where you bought your mushroom coral from.
Many experienced hobbyists have also found that mushroom corals with more interesting color variations take much longer to grow than common colored ones. While some mushroom corals like to expand and take their time, other mushrooms will grow like weeds, taking over your aquascape as fast as they can.
If you are particularly looking for fast-growing mushrooms, check out these:
- Discosoma mushrooms are the fastest-growing mushroom corals, because of their thinner, smooth disk. They are also some of the cheapest mushroom corals.
- Rhodactis are also known to grow fast and very large.
To promote fast growth, place your mushroom coral on a large rock under the correct conditions, monitor their feeding, and keep the tank parameters stable.
Also, when searching for fast-growing mushroom corals, look for rocks that already have mushroom frags on, and ask your LFS which mushrooms they have experienced growing the fastest in captivity.
Controlling Mushroom Coral Growth
Mushroom corals are great at filling any empty spaces inside your aquarium, actually, they are rather too good at this, and in a short time, they can grow out of hand, similar to how weeds grow in your backyard!
This is because they can regrow from the smallest piece left behind, making them difficult to control once you have a few established in your reef.
If your mushroom corals are confined to one area of your aquarium, then this is easy, but not very convenient. The easiest way is to remove the whole rock that the mushroom corals have encrusted on. This, unfortunately, will remove some beneficial bacteria from your aquarium, but it is the simplest way to deal with your overgrowth problem.
Removing mushroom corals that have grown on multiple surfaces is challenging because it requires you to manually scrape them off, but less beneficial bacteria will be removed from your aquarium.
Can Mushroom Corals Move?
Mushroom corals will move around your aquarium to find areas with more favorable conditions. For example, if the lighting and water flow conditions are not quite right, they will soon move elsewhere.
Most of the time, your mushroom coral is likely to detach from its base and float around in the water flow, waiting to attach to the rock or substrate when they find a suitable location. Mushroom corals can also crawl, although this is a slower process for your coral to move around the aquarium. Their ability to move is possible by inflating and deflating their tissues.
When your mushroom coral moves, it will leave small bits behind, a similar concept to when a snail leaves a slime trail. These tiny bits of mushroom coral will then grow into another mushroom coral. This process is called “mushroom pedal laceration”, and it is a natural reproduction process – basically, your mushroom coral clones itself whenever it moves.
If you do not want any more mushroom corals, you can remove the parts that are left behind with a scalpel or use a turkey baster to blast the remaining foot off the rock or substrate.
Mushroom Coral Care
Once your mushroom coral has acclimated and settled, they are one of the easiest corals to care for and propagate. While mushroom corals require the same care, there is one exception, and that is Ricordea mushrooms.
Special Ricordea Mushroom Care Guide
Ricordeas are the most challenging mushroom corals to care for. As Ricordea mushrooms are easily found offshore in Florida, most specimens are wild-caught, not aquacultured in captivity. Therefore, Ricordea mushrooms have not adapted to captive life like the others, making them more demanding when it comes to their water flow, lighting, and water stability requirements. These mushrooms thrive in moderate flow and lighting with a high amount of nutrients available.
As Ricordea mushrooms are mainly caught in the wild, you must treat them for pests and diseases before placing them into your aquarium.
Tank Parameters To Maintain Healthy Mushroom Corals
You will be glad to hear that mushroom corals do not have strict water parameter needs and dosing is not necessary, however, you should still keep their environment relatively stable.
Ideal Water Conditions:
- Temperature: 76° – 82 °F
- pH: 8.1 – 8.4
- Salinity: 1.023 – 1.025
- Alkalinity: 9 – 11 dKH
- Nitrates: <10 ppm
- Phosphates: <0.10 ppm
- Calcium: 350 – 450 ppm
- Magnesium: 1250 – 1350
Mushroom Coral Lighting & PAR Levels
Just like in the wild, corals require lighting to survive. Lighting drives the photosynthesis process, where corals gain around 85% of their energy and nutritional needs from the symbiotic algae that live within their tissues, called zooxanthellae. Your mushroom coral also requires sufficient lighting to drive this process.
Aquarium lighting is a crucial part of coral survival. Even though mushroom corals do not require as much light as stony corals like Acropora, getting the lighting conditions right from the start will help your mushroom coral grow faster and enhance its coloration.
The majority of mushroom corals thrive in low lighting levels with a PAR between 50 and 150, however, some mushrooms like Ricordea require more intense lighting.
If your lighting is too low, your mushroom will start losing its beautiful coloration and its shape will change (resembling a funnel) in an attempt to reach towards the light. If poor lighting conditions continue, your mushroom coral will most likely move to an area with more lighting.
If the lighting is too high, your mushroom coral will retract and start turning white, as it becomes bleached.
To know you have hit your mushroom corals’ sweet spot, it will be fully open, laying flat on the substrate it has attached to.
How Many Hours Of Lighting Do Mushroom Corals Need?
Mushroom corals grow well with 8-10 hours of lighting per day, and should never exceed 12 hours, as this may lead to coral bleaching.
Providing your mushroom coral with 8-10 hours of lighting a day allows oxygen levels to rise inside your mushroom coral, and for photosynthesis to happen. They require time during the night when the lights are off to reduce their oxygen levels before you switch the lighting fixture back on.
Which Lighting Fixtures Are Best For Mushroom Corals?
Selecting which lighting fixture for corals can be fairly controversial, as every reefer has a different tank set-up, with different coral specimens. However, mushroom corals do best under T5HO lighting fixtures.
It is recommended to provide your mushroom coral with 3-5 watts per gallon, so a T5HO lighting fixture that is 54 watts and provides 5,000 lumens is perfect for them.
Adding Actinic lighting to your aquarium will enhance the color of your mushroom corals, but species found in deeper areas of the ocean may not tolerate them.
Mushroom Coral Water Flow Requirements
Just like lighting, your mushroom corals are not too fussy when it comes to water flow.
As they have very small and delicate polyps, blasting your mushroom coral with too much flow can damage them, or stretch them out, putting neighboring corals at risk of chemical warfare.
However, too little water flow will cause a build-up of waste on your mushroom coral’s polyps, and also, the nutrients inside your aquarium will not be circulated very well.
Ideal conditions for mushroom corals are low to moderate, indirect water flow.
Feeding Mushroom Corals
Most mushroom corals will get the majority of their nutrition from the symbiotic algae that live inside their tissues, called zooxanthellae.
Zooxanthellae metabolize carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and phosphorus, providing your coral with nutrition, and in return, your mushroom coral provides the algae with a safe place to live and carry out photosynthesis, therefore lighting plays a crucial part when keeping mushroom corals.
In addition to the zooxanthellae and nutrients in the water, many hobbyists will also feed their mushroom corals to promote faster growth.
Mushroom corals contain individual polyps, each equipped with a mouth, to eat food. Depending on the mushroom coral you have, will determine the size of food they can eat. For example, larger mushroom corals like the elephant ear can be fed larger meaty foods than hairy mushrooms, which eat small pellets or powdered foods.
Reef Tank Advisor’s Top Picks!
Mushroom Coral Placement
As already mentioned, your mushroom coral requires low lighting and low water flow (species dependent), so, down the bottom on a rock or the sand bed is the best placement for your mushroom.
The difficulty with placement is their endless excretion of mucus that prevents the glue from sticking, letting them slip away when they wish. When this happens, encourage your mushroom coral to attach to another surface using netting with pieces of rocks attached.
Do not worry if you do not get their placement right the first time, they will soon tell you by moving to a more desirable spot.
Mushroom Coral Temperament
Your mushroom coral is not equipped with long sweeper tentacles, but they can still be aggressive when they want to. Some friends of mine have even seen their mushroom corals fighting with chalice corals, drifting closer and closer to them, ready to attack.
Their tentacle doesn’t seem to have powerful nematocysts that usually pose an issue, however, the tentacle still contains powerful chemicals. Your mushroom coral’s stinging tentacle is especially harmful to other types of soft corals and also some SPS corals.
Because of their semi-aggressive nature, it is not recommended to mix different species of corals from different genera. While some hobbyists will have no issues mixing corals, it is not worth the risk of losing a coral, especially if it was an expensive species!
What we do know is that mushroom corals such as rhodactis (hairy mushroom coral) will win a fight against zoanthids and palythoa corals, and will also try to take a swing at acroporas and acans.
To avoid conflict inside your aquarium, it is best to avoid mixing these corals. However, if you have a big reef aquarium, then you can create different areas, separating the corals, but remember that mushroom corals can move if they feel like it, let’s just say, they are fairly unpredictable!
That being said, mushroom corals seem to be tolerant of each other, therefore, you should have no issues placing a mixture of mushrooms in your aquarium, especially if the mushrooms are from the same genus.
Suitable Tank Mates For Mushroom Corals
Most reef-friendly fish and invertebrates will live in harmony with your mushroom coral, however larger mushroom corals like the elephant ear (Amplexidiscus fenestrafer) can quickly engulf small fish that get too close.
Be particularly careful when keeping clownfish and other anemone fish in your aquarium with mushroom corals. Monitor both their behavior, and move them if things get a little heated.
If your mushroom coral feels uncomfortable, it will remain closed most of the time. This is a sign that something is nipping, stinging, or crawling over your mushroom coral. Identify the bully and remove them from the aquarium.
Mushroom Coral Pests, Diseases & Common Problems
Mushroom corals don’t seem to have many issues with pests. However, flatworms, some copepods/isopods, and nudibranchs/sea slugs can infect mushroom corals. Should these pests get inside your aquarium, they will strip your mushroom coral’s tissues. Therefore, coral dipping is a must to remove these pests.
Algae grow on unhealthy, dying tissue, so, if this is the case, your mushroom coral is likely suffering from S/RTN.
If you suspect your mushroom coral has STN or RTN, then you must test the water immediately and check the parameters are within range. If the necrosis is severe, consider removing your infected mushroom coral, as it can be contagious to neighboring corals.
If salvageable, you can try and frag the portion of your mushroom coral that is not infected with S/RTN as soon as possible.
How To Frag Mushroom Corals
Fragging your mushroom coral is a simple process, and because they are frequently fragged in captivity, we now know the most successful ways to give your mushroom coral a helping hand to reproduce!
- Firstly, select the mushroom coral you wish to frag and remove it from the aquarium. As mushroom corals are similar to urchins, they can squirt liquid, therefore grab some safety glasses or goggles for protection.
- Taking your scalpel, razor blade, or sharp knife, cut your mushroom coral in half, straight down the middle, directly through its mouth. Note that mushroom corals are known to emit an odor. This is a natural toxin they emit in response to being removed, but it is nothing you should worry about.
- The next stage is slightly challenging – encouraging your mushroom coral to attach to a rock/some rubble and heal. The easiest way is to place your cut mushroom fragments inside a container with some aquarium water and rubble.
- Leave them in the container for a few days to attach.
- Once they are attached, place them back inside the aquarium. You can place some netting over them to prevent any fish from taking nips out of them.
- With your mushroom corals attached, you can now move them to wherever you desire, but remember that they may move if the conditions are not to their liking.
Mushroom corals are an easy coral to care for that also bring lots of color and movement to low flow areas of your aquarium. With so many varieties of mushroom corals to choose from, there is a mushroom coral for everyone!