The Kenya Tree Coral, Capnella sp., is a hardy soft coral species that is tolerant of a range of living conditions, which makes it great for beginner aquarists. In terms of color, this rapidly growing soft corals species is somewhat drab and is generally available as a brown/pink frag or colony. The more rare and desirable Kenya tree corals tend to have a green coloration.
Table of contents
This article is broken down into the following sections:
- Ideal habitat
- Light requirements
- Feeding and diet: what do they eat?
- Fragging and propagation
- Pros and Cons
- What to read next
In addition to being generally very hardy and tolerant of life in a saltwater aquarium, Kenya tree corals are fragging machines. A small soft coral colony will grow quickly in a tank and form other small colonies by dropping branches. This self-propagation is a form of fragging that a growing Kenya tree coral specimen will undergo all on its own. New colonies are quickly formed from new buds, and frags may detach from their place and float away in the tank, in search of a better place to live. This is why they need constant monitoring and pruning if you want to keep them under control.
So this is a great coral species if you are just starting out or are just starting to get interested in fragging corals (coral propagation).
- Common names: Kenya tree coral, Capnella coral
- Scientific name: Various species in Capnella genus
- Care level of difficulty: Easy and suitable for beginners and early tanks
- Fragging level of difficulty: Very easy. Will frag itself or can be easily cut
- Photosynthetic: Yes, although it may rely heavily on feeding
- Needs to be fed?: Yes
The Kenya Tree leather coral hails from the Indo-Pacific Ocean area and the Red Sea, in deep reef areas, with clear water. They prefer strong water currents, which help them float away and develop large colonies.
In the tank, these corals can adapt to a wide range of tank environments, but they usually do best under moderate light and medium water flow.
You could arguably keep these corals in just about any-sized tank, including a nano aquarium, with one big caveat. These are fast-growing corals that will eventually take over a fairly large space in the tank. Because of this, you will need to prune back (frag) the coral to keep the size in check. You also want to allow enough space for the Kenya tree coral to grow without overgrowing its neighbors.
These corals are hardy and generally tolerant of aquarium conditions. Water parameters that approximate the quality of water on the reef are generally recommended:
- Temperature: ~73-82 degrees F
- pH: ~8.2
- Salinity: (measured as specific gravity 1.025)
- Alkalinity: 8-12 dKh
- Ammonia: 0 ppm
- Nitrites: 0 ppm
- Nitrates: low but possibly above zero
Kenya tree coral placement
The ideal location for your Capnella coral is in an area of moderate to high flow and moderate lighting. They don’t require particularly high levels of either, so somewhere along the periphery of the light halo from your LEDs is likely an optimal spot. As long as they are allowed to acclimate, they could be kept under somewhat stronger lighting or flow conditions, but they will grow well without, so you wouldn’t likely want to use the prime real estate here.
This coral requires low-to-moderate reef tank lighting. That generally means, keep them shaded from the hottest part of the light, generally lower down in the aquarium and on the periphery of the cone of light. Keep them shaded from metal halides, by placing them under rocks or larger corals.
Kenya Tree coral has symbiotic zooxanthellae that will produce some of the necessary nutrition through photosynthesis. It is also thought that the Kenya tree coral gets some of its nutritional needs by absorbing nutrients from the water as well as by capturing tiny plankton. Feeding this coral with fresh phytoplankton should boost growth.
The Kenya Tree Coral is considered to be semi-aggressive. It doesn’t have sweeper tentacles or another way to overtly hurt a neighboring coral, other than the fact that it will grow into and over them.
Keep in mind that this coral will also seem to move about your tank and colonize new areas by dropping branches and attaching them to the substrate.
Some aquarists that have had success growing these corals and have since moved on will affectionately call the Kenya tree coral a weed because of this habit of springing up in areas of the tank where it is not wanted.
If you are new to the hobby and have never kept corals, or have tried and struggled to keep corals, you may be thinking this way of thinking shows a bit of snobbery and reflects the type of problem one can only have after having significant success in this hobby.
Capnella species, like the Kenya tree coral, will create miniature clones of themselves by “dropping” buds and branches. A branch of the ‘tree’ will literally pinch off and float downstream until it gets trapped, where it will attach to that substrate, if possible, and grow. You can manage a more active reproduction, by fragging or trimming the branches, to keep them in the desired location or keep them from taking over the tank.
They can be fragged easily with a sharp blade, by simply cutting a limb off.
Whether you are using a limb that was dropped naturally, or one that you cut with a blade or scissors, the next step is to attach the Kenya tree frag with a rubber band to a frag plug, rock, or shell. In a few days, the cut branch will attach itself to the rock or rubble and start growing by itself.
To learn more about how to frag corals, check out this article.
Over the course of days, weeks, and months in your tank, you should see a fair amount of ‘activity’ in your Kenya tree coral. Sometimes they are shriveled up, looking unhappy. Sometimes they are so inflated they look like they’ve doubled in size, other times they are drooping or dropping branches.
If your coral looks different on certain days but otherwise returns back to normal, don’t worry. It’s all part of a day in the life of a Capnella coral. Drooping and dropping branches is actually a natural behavior/occurrence and is a way this coral reproduces prolifically, asexually.
What you want to watch out for is excessive drooping (to the point of damage) or persistent shrinkage, which may be signs of more serious problems, described further below.
As mentioned before, this is a hardy species that will generally tolerate life in the aquarium–but that doesn’t mean the coral is incapable of dying. The first signs of trouble may be that the coral is all shriveled up for long periods of time (all day for multiple days). A healthy, thriving colony will be ‘puffed up’: inflated with water and with branches extended, almost looking fuzzy because of the extended polyps.
If your coral has not opened up in a few days, you should try to identify what is disturbing the coral and remove the problem. It could be a neighboring coral stinging it, perhaps an over-eager fish, like a clownfish is bugging it, or it coudl be unhappy with the conditions in the tank (check your water parameters), or that spot.
A dying coral could slowly wither away and dieback or it could ‘melt away’, breaking apart and essentially dissolving into the water. A dying coral will likely smell rotten, so if you suspect a problem, removing the colony or frag to an isolated tank can help prevent damaging the other corals in your system–and give you a chance to inspect closer.
Now that we already know what keeping Kenya Tree Corals means, let’s have a quick look at the pros and cons of having this invertebrate in your reef tank:
The Kenya Tree corals are:
- Easy to care for
- Will adapt well to most reef aquarium living conditions
- Easy to propagate by fragging
- Readily available
- Inexpensive (you may even find aquarists that would give them away for free, especially in reef clubs)
- Grow rapidly
Here are a few cons about keeping the Kenya Tree coral (Capnella species)
- You will not be able to keep this coral ‘in its place’. Branches or buds will detach, float away and grow anywhere and everywhere it can
- Grow so rapidly they may overtake some slower growing coral species if you are not careful and do not prune back the growth
- You may in fact never rid your tank of the Kenya tree coral once introduced–they are that prolific
- It may be difficult to keep them in the same place, as Kenya Tree Corals tend to detach and float away, as well as drop buds next to them, and form new colonies;
The Kenya Tree coral was one of my first coral species. For you veteran salties out there, you might cringe when I say this, but I still have the Kenya Tree coral in my current display tank. If you are looking for a type of low maintenance, rapidly growing coral, this is a great choice.
Watch this video to learn more:
If you enjoyed this article about the Kenya tree coral, check out these other great soft corals that require similar care as the Kenya tree coral:
If you want more help Building a Better Saltwater Aquarium, pleas
Borneman, Eric H. Aquarium Corals. T.F.H. Publications. New Jersey 2004.
Ulrich III, Albert B. How to Frag Corals. www.SaltwaterAquariumBlog.com Publications 2015
Ulrich III, Albert B. The New Saltwater Aquarium Guide. www.SaltwaterAquariumBlog.com Publications 2014.