Are you just starting your reef aquarium journey and feel a little intimidated by the care requirements of many corals? Or are you an experienced aquarist looking for something nice and uncomplicated? Whatever your skill level, Kenya tree corals from the genus Capnella are an attractive choice. They’re not just decorative, but also highly adaptable and pretty unfussy!
Let’s go into everything you need to know about Kenya tree coral care and how to grow this soft leather coral in your home aquarium.
|Name (Common, Scientific)||Kenya tree, cauliflower soft coral, Capnella sp.|
Kenya tree taxonomy, habitat & appearance
Taxonomy & habitat
Despite their common name referring to a single African country, Kenya tree corals are actually found from the Red Sea all the way to the western Pacific. Their range includes the African islands of Zanzibar and Madagascar, plus the Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Australia and the Philippines.
Because this isn’t a single species of coral but rather a whole genus, it’s not surprising that their natural habit can vary a little. Members of Capnella are often found on deeper reefs, but it’s not uncommon either to see them in more turbulent coastal zones either.
All this means this genus is pretty adaptable when it comes to factors like flow and light, which is a big advantage for us aquarists!
As the common name suggests, many Kenya tree coral species grow in an arborescent (tree-shaped) manner, with a central stalk featuring lots of clusters of polyps on its ends. This being said, they can also be more lobed in appearance.
The color of this soft coral can vary from a neutral beige to pink or even fluorescent green, although the latter can be pretty pricey.
Kenya tree care
One thing aquarists would do well to keep in mind about Kenya tree coral is that it doesn’t rely on photosynthesizing symbiotic algae (zooxanthellae) as much as some other corals do. As such, it likes a bit of extra food. This is an advantage for us, because it means we don’t have to keep the tank quite as sparkly clean as we would for some of the more sensitive (stony) corals.
Normal reef parameters should work absolutely fine for your Kenya trees. They’re quite unfussy, which is one of the reasons they became so popular in the first place! They’ll even do fine in nano tanks.
When figuring out the best spot for your Kenya tree in the aquarium, keep in mind how it would naturally grow. Capnella doesn’t usually occur in very high-light locations. As discussed, although it does contain zooxanthellae, it doesn’t rely on them very heavily for food. As such, in the aquarium, this species do well near the bottom in a spot with low to medium light levels (from PAR 80). You can leave the more “prime” real estate for other corals!
In terms of water flow, this coral can handle quite a bit. Moderate to high flow levels should work fine.
Although Kenya trees are one of the more ideal corals out there for many aquarists, there are a few downsides to them as well. One of these is the fact that the species is not really the best neighbor: it’s considered moderately aggressive.
Although Capnella doesn’t possess sweeper tentacles, it’s a vigorous grower. As it expands, it will sting every coral that it touches, sometimes bothering its “competition” to the point of it becoming fatal. As such, it’s important to leave a good bit of space between your Kenya tree corals and other species.
Keep this coral’s quick growth in mind: even if you think you’ve placed them quite far away from their neighbors, they can expand very quickly. You’ll probably need to go for at least a 30-40 gallon tank if you want to keep multiple coral species, as opposed to as little as 5-10 if you’ll be keeping it on its own.
Additionally, this coral excretes a range of compounds that are toxic to other species’ cells (cytotoxic) and can inhibit their growth. Among these are sesquiterpenes, which are problematic for other corals but actually of interest to scientists. One 2019 study, for example, notes that compounds produced by Capnella appear anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial. One sesquiterpene, called Capgermacrene A, turned out to be cytotoxic to aggressive T-cell leukemia!
Luckily, these sesquiterpenes don’t appear to affect fish. You can keep a Kenya tree coral with any reef-safe species that are compatible with the rest of your set-up. Fish like clownfish, gobies and blennies, among others, should work well.
Did you know? Many sources recommend either doing plenty of water changes or using activated charcoal to (partially) get rid of Kenya trees’ cytotoxic compounds. This does mean you’re also removing some of the stuff that your coral loves to feed on from the water column and will have to spot feed.
Feeding Kenya tree
This is a pretty “hungry” species as far as corals go, so you’ll have to supplement its diet on a regular basis unless you keep it in something like a refugium.
Luckily, feeding a coral isn’t difficult. Spot feeding works best if you want to avoid food blowing all over the tank: just drop some phytoplankton near your Kenya tree once a week or so and it will take care of the rest.
How to frag Kenya tree
Kenya tree coral may not be the best choice for beginning reef enthusiasts looking to learn more about fragging corals. Why? Well, not because they’re too challenging to frag – it’s because they’re too easy! They naturally break apart to multiply themselves and won’t actually need much help on your part in most cases. This is called asexual reproduction.
In the wild, Capnella relies more on “classic” sexual reproduction, but this rarely happens in the aquarium. Instead, it spreads through our tanks by regularly dropping one or more of its branches.
The branch floats around until it finds something to attach to, after which it will quickly establish itself and continue growing. We weren’t kidding when we said that they can completely take over if you’re not careful; some aquarists consider Kenya trees to be weeds. You need to remove loose branches immediately if you want to prevent excessive spread.
If your Kenya tree isn’t showing signs of propagating itself, you can opt to frag it manually. Just cut off one of the branches using a sharp knife or razor blade and then attach it to a frag plug or a piece of rock. A rubber band should work well for this. Both the original and the new coral should keep growing just fine!
Fabricius, K., & Alderslade, P. (2001). Soft corals and sea fans: a comprehensive guide to the tropical shallow water genera of the central-west Pacific, the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. Australian Institute of Marine Science.
Phan, C. S., Kamada, T., Ishii, T., Hamada, T., & Vairappan, C. S. (2019). Cytotoxic sesquiterpenoids from soft soral capnella imbricata. Natural Product Communications, 14(6), 1934578X19857494.