Plating corals

One of the most amazing aspects of reef keeping is that there are nearly endless combinations of color and shape/growth forms we can use to create our ideal and individualized home reef. The plating corals are particularly useful in creating a focus point among all the branching sticks.

This article is loaded with great pictures of all different types of plating corals, so you can get a sense for what both smaller and larger colonies might look in your tank.

What are plating corals?

Plating corals are generally Small polyp stony (SPS) or Large polyp stony (LPS) corals that tend to grow out horizontally, as they grow older, in flat, plate-shaped discs, rather than in branches up towards the light.

Animated GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Over years and years, the plates grow out in layers, like you can see in the GIF above and the image below from a public reef I visited a few years back. Look at all that awesome plating growth!

Most popular type of plating coral

By far, the most popular and common type of plating coral is the Montipora capricornis. It is the OG, when it comes to plating coral types.

If you are patient and selective, you can find it in color variations that span the rainbow, including red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple.

You can see where the name plating coral comes from. These corals grow out in a horizontal growth formation, also sometimes called scrolling or cup. They can add interesting texture and focal points to a mixed reef tank.

Coral growth forms (including plating)

The stony corals have a variety of growth forms, colors and growth rates, which is an aspect that makes creating your own slice of the reef such an interesting hobby.

Let’s explore a few of the most common and interesting growth types, including plating coral types.

A branching SPS and plating (or scrolling) SPS shown in the same image

Plating

The main topic in this article is to highlight plating coral.

The most typical plating coral species is Montipora capricornis, but other corals like Turbinaria, Pachyseris, and Chalices may show plating growth under the right conditions.

Typically called a ‘Cup’ coral, this coral can exhibit plating growth

Cup

Growing in a cup-like formation is also quite common among plating coral types. As you can see in the image below, the tendency to grow in a spiral-type formation and with the tip pointed up is what turns a “plate” into a “cup”.

When the plates spiral out and up, they can also look a bit like a cup

Scroll

When the plates grow a bit more vertically and zig-gag tightly, this is more of a scrolling or maze-type growth pattern. Sometimes the scrolls look a bit more tubular (like narrow cups).

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Encrusting

Several other aquarium coral types exhibit encrusting growth.

Encrusting coral growth form

That’s growth that is very close to rocks. Sometimes encrusting corals can form plates at the vertical edges of the rocks. I suspect this happens when lighting conditions are idea (or when going down lower would be unfavorable).

Table

Several SPS coral types show a growth form called tabling. These are often acropora SPS corals that look like branching corals, close up, but when they reach larger sizes, the branching grows dense and flat, as seen in the images below.

Branching

Perhaps the most common and commonly imagined coral growth form is the branching style. These corals include some of the most desired and hardest to care for corals.

But they are gorgeous, aren’t they?

Where to place a plating coral?

When deciding where to place plating corals in your tank, I recommend you consider at least three important factors:

  1. Placement during the acclimation period vs. for the long term
  2. Ideal locations to meet the care needs of the coral
  3. Relative distance from other coral – giving them room to grow
  4. The shade they will provide once they start growing out

Placement during acclimation

Aquarium Corals can bleach in an instant, if they are stressed out. This can commonly occur if they are introduced to your bright-hot aquarium lights too quickly. Particularly if they just spent a day or two in a dark container trying to reach your home. By comparison, starvation, due to the lights being too dim or being too far away from the lights tends to happen over weeks or even months. So the best word of advice when acclimating new corals to your home is to start low and go slow.

Consider starting in an area with around ~100-150 PAR as your acclimation starting point. For many of us, that will mean starting in the middle-to-lower regions of your tanks and gradually move them up and into the ‘spotlight’ and their final destination.

Ideal locations to meet the care needs of the coral

Most plating corals do best, over the long term, in moderately high lighting and water flow environments. That means a ‘final’ PAR in the 225-300 range. By ‘final’ I mean once acclimation is completed.

They also do well with moderately high water flow.

I’m basing this primarily on Montipora capricornis but please research the individual care needs of the specific coral you have to double-check that this is still sound advice.

Relative placement compared with other corals

Most of the plating coral types described in this article are peaceful (not aggressive or semi-aggressive). So, on one-hand, you could make the argument that they could be placed nearby other peaceful corals without risk of starting a coral war.

However, that logic certainly maximizes your coral density options now, but it doesn’t properly account for the space the coral needs to grow out, over time. Because plating corals grow out in a scrolling pattern mostly horizontally, they may actually take up more space than some of the branching coral types that prefer to grow vertically, towards the light.

So your best bet is to allow for that natural plating growth pattern to occur and give them a wide berth around where you attach the frag.

Please also consider the fact that once the plates start extending out, those plates become ‘light hogs’. The plating coral will create a shelf that extends out and shades the area underneath. So the ideal placement of a plating coral takes that natural growth pattern into consideration and creates shade for lower-light corals.

Another option would be to place the plating corals in the mid level (assuming your lights are appropriately strong) so that you could place the most light-thirsty corals above it.

Either way, it would be a bad day if you placed your Montipora plating corals in a spot where it would shade out the life-sustaining (and expensive) light you’re generating, from other corals that need it, like Mr. Burns did on the Simpsons.

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How long does it take a plating coral to grow?

Any coral you add to your tank will take a little time to acclimate and build up strength/energy during a settling in period, when first added to the tank. That settling in period can be anywhere from about a month to a few years (in extreme cases). But once the coral has settled in, it’s off to the races.

Most plating coral species are relatively fast-growers, by stony coral standards, which means you can expect an appreciable, but small amount of growth about every month. We’re talking fractions of inches. But those fractions of inches build up over time.

Be sure to take photos periodically to watch the growth for yourself. In such a way, a tiny frag will grow into an interesting and impressive colony over a period of a few years.

What is the difference between Plate corals vs. Plating corals?

A plating coral is a stony coral species that sends growth out horizontally in the water column. The thin, horizontal growth looks a bit like a plate, scroll or cup. A plate coral is an unrelated Large Polyp Stony (LPS) coral that belongs to the Fungia family and generally lives on the substrate.

You can see an example of a plating coral (left) and a plate coral (right) in the image below.

Note the gorgeous Montipora capricornis plating coral shown in the left and an equally gorgeous but totally different Fungia Plate coral on the right.

What is a grafted plating coral?

A grafted plating coral looks like a single piece or frag or coral, but it is actually made by cutting and attaching two different colonies together. This is done to create and accentuate color combinations that are often even more beautiful (to the buyer) than the naturally occurring varieties.

What to read next?

Check out these other great articles to dive deeper into the world of aquarium corals:

How to frag corals

Learning how to frag corals is one of the most fulfilling things I have learned and experienced in this hobby. At its simplest level, fragging corals is a fundamental skill to help ensure your coral is growing properly in the available space in your tank. But it is also a way to multiply the number of colonies in your tank, to help you achieve the reef tank of your dreams, and it can also be a fun way to trade and share colonies with other aquarium owners in your area, or even a way to make a few dollars and offset some of your costs.

Once you get started fragging corals, it can be hard to stop.

Learn how to frag corals with this expert how-to-guide:

Available on Amazon, iBooks and Google Play

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