Everything You Need to Know About Mushroom Coral Care

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Looking for a colorful and easy to care for coral? A Mushroom Coral is as easy as it gets when it comes to easy coral care. These wonderful corals are not only easy to growth, but also come in a variety of colors. They will fulfill the needs of a reefer who is just starting out and satisfy the hobbyist looks for the most exotic corals they can buy. With the popularity of bounce corals and jawbreaker mushrooms, there is a mushroom coral for everyone!

Let’s dive in and learn how awesome these corals are!

A Brief Overview of the Mushroom Coral

Scientific NameCorallimorpharia Order (Actinodiscus/Discosoma spp., Rhodactis spp., and Ricordea spp. most commonly found in the reef aquarium hobby)
Common NamesMushroom corals, mushroom anemones, disc anemones, and false corals, but commonly named after physical attributes where possible
FamilyVarious – Corallimorphidae, Disosomatidar, Ricordeidae, and Sideractiidae
OriginWidespread in temperate to tropical waters; major origins include Australia, Tonga, the Caribbean, and Indonesia
Common ColorsPurples, blues, greens, oranges, yellows, reds
Care LevelEasy
TemperamentSemi-aggressive
LightingLow-Moderate (<50-150 par)
Tank PlacementBottom, Middle
Flow RateLow
Temperature Range76-82 degrees F
pH Range8.0 – 8.4
Salinity1.025 or 35 PPT
Alkalinity8 – 12 dKH
Calcium Level350 – 450 PPM
Magnesium Level1250 – 1350 PPM
PropagationCutting/Fragging

Origins And Habitat

Mushroom corals are found throughout most temperate to tropical marine ecosystems. These corals do not need much light and thrive in low flow environments. Most notably, they can be found in Australia, Tonga, Indonesia, with some of the most popular species originating from the Caribbean, namely from the coasts of Florida.

Mushroom corals can spread very quickly and are often found in large colonies, covering rocks and other structures, including other corals.

Morphology And Common Names

The Corallimorpharia Order1 is a large taxonomic category containing nearly 50 species. However, most coral species in the reef aquarium trade belong to the Actinodiscus/Discosoma, Rhodactis, and Ricordea genera, which are collectively referred to as mushroom corals.

The mushroom coral is a soft coral, which means that it does not produce a hard calcium carbonate skeleton like large polyp stony corals (LPS) or small polyp stony corals (SPS). As we’ll see later, this makes for easy propagation of the coral.

Interestingly, members of the Corallimorpharia Order are very similar in morphology to SPS (Scleractinia Order), though this is difficult to see without looking at polyp segmentation. Instead, to most of us, these corals resemble the dome-shaped top and stalk of a terrestrial mushroom, earning them their most common name.

While members of Actinodiscus/Discosoma, Rhodactis, and Ricordea are generally referred to as mushrooms, many mushroom corals have been given specific names with more rare and expensive variations being assigned brand names.

For example, members of Actinodiscus/Discosoma are typically named after their colors, like red and blue mushroom corals. Some types of Rhodactis may be named after their color combinations as well, but this genus also contains ‘bounce’ mushroom coral variations.

Ricordea species are simply called ricordeas most of the time due to their unique longer-tentacle appearance and can only be classified into Ricordea florida or R. yuma:

  • R. florida has a small mouth that is usually not surrounded by tentacles. The tentacles on the rest of the polyp are random in size and placement. Sometimes these tentacles will have orderly color distribution, but this may be random as well.
  • R. yuma has tentacles surrounding the mouth and is much more colorful comparatively. Their structure follows more order and usually has alternating small and large tentacles as you move to the outside of the polyp.

Are Mushroom Corals A Type Of Soft Coral?

It is also possible to find mushroom corals referred to as false corals. Do not be mistaken as these animals are soft corals. Soft coral refers to their lack of defined internal structure. More specifically, mushroom corals lack any trace of skeleton, even small pieces of sclerite.

Because of this, mushroom corals do not have any fossil records.

Other Types Of Mushroom

There are several other species that are present in the reef aquarium hobby, but more uncommon to find in your average hobbyist’s tank.

This includes members of Amplexidiscus and Paracorynactis which can be very aggressive eaters.

What Do Mushroom Corals Look Like?

What Does A Mushroom Coral Look Like

Most mushroom corals are easy to identify, though some have been modified in appearance so that they might resemble other corals at first glance.

These are a few ways you can tell species of mushroom coral apart. Here are several different types:

Disco Mushrooms

Actinodiscus/Discosoma (pictured above) is considered one of the easiest and hardiest genera of mushroom coral. These corals are simple in appearance with a circular disk and a mouth in the middle and lay flatly against the surface; these disc anemones usually has a bumpy texture. Actinodiscus/Discosoma spp. grow a few across in diameter and are most commonly found in solid reds, blues, and greens.

Rhodactis Mushroom Corals

Rhodactis Mushroom Coral

Rhodactis contains some of the more desirable morphs of mushroom coral, like the bounce coral. However, most species of Rhodactis are slightly more ornate than Actinodiscus/Discosoma species and have a pilled or frilly characteristic. They are usually two or more colors with nearly all combinations and gradients available. These corals can range greatly in size and may stay under one inch or grow close to two feet like elephant ear mushroom corals.

Ricordea Mushroom Corals

Ricordea Mushroom Coral

Ricordea has become very popular in recent years, specifically for biotope setups. As mentioned before, there are only two species of Ricordea. In general, ricordea mushrooms are much different from the previous two genera and can be told apart even if interspecies differences might be similar. These ricordea shrooms come in a variety of bright colors, stay pretty small, and are recognized for their bumpy appearance. The most popular variant is Ricordea florida.

Sadly, most plainer-looking mushrooms, like those from the Actinodiscus/Discosoma genus aren’t kept in the hobby as much anymore due to more desirable morphs and because of how rapidly they can spread across an aquarium.

If you’re looking to quickly fill a rock with color in your reef tank though, these mushroom corals can be the perfect addition.

Why Are Bounce Corals So Expensive?

Bounce Mushroom

Despite some mushrooms being undesirable, others are extremely favored and go for high prices. In specific, these are bounce mushrooms, like Sunkist Bounce mushrooms and OG Bounce mushrooms, that can go for over $200 and $700 per polyp respectively.

Bounce mushrooms are a modified type of Rhodactis. They are prized for their overgrown tentacles that are often bright colors and patterns. However, it is unknown how these morphs come about, and so they are rarer to come across. This, in addition to the market of assigning brand names, has made these corals some of the most expensive frags in the industry.

While expensive, these mushroom corals don’t require much extra attention than other types of mushrooms Though losing one of these definitely hurts a lot more than a regular $20 polyp!

Placement And Temperament In The Aquarium

Though mushrooms corals greatly in size, shape, and color, their overall requirements are very similar. These corals thrive in reefs with available nutrients as well as in low to moderate reef light and low water flow movement, apart from Ricordea yuma.

The mushroom coral is very forgiving of water parameters, but won’t tolerate being exposed to too much light and high flow conditions. Mushrooms actually have the ability to move around the rock and even completely detach if they do not like their placement. This can lead to some problems, though.

While mushrooms do not have sweeper tentacles that can attack other corals in close proximity, they can actually be pretty aggressive; some hobbyists have even seen their mushrooms win a fight with chalice corals (Pectiniidae Family). If a drifting mushroom coral lands near other corals, there is a chance that it will start to attack.

Because of this, it is also not a good idea to mix different species from different genera together as they will most likely damage each other. Some hobbyists have had success keeping similar mushroom corals together, but this is still a risk.

The main problem with mushroom coral placement is that they cannot be glued to one place. These corals excrete tons of mucus that prevent the glue from sticking and allow them to slip right out of the hold. Instead, a mushroom coral polyp needs to attach itself to another surface that you can then move–though, your coral might have other plans.

This can be done by placing the coral under a permeable container or netting with pieces of rock or frag plugs. Within a few days, the mushroom coral should have attached itself. You may then move your coral to other places of the display, in low light and low flow.

Otherwise, if you have no other corals in the aquarium, then you can also let your mushroom coral loose in your main display and let it find its own preferred location. Of course, this risks your coral getting stuck in the back of the tank away from light, which could kill the coral.

Mushroom Coral Care And Maintenance

Mushroom Coral Care

Once your mushroom has settled, these corals are some of the easiest to take care of and to propagate. As mentioned before, most mushroom corals need the same tank conditions and maintenance besides Ricordea yuma.

General Mushroom Coral Water Parameters

Mushrooms do not have any specific water parameter needs. Because they are soft corals, they rarely depend on calcium or magnesium due to their lack of skeleton; this is also true for alkalinity, though alkalinity levels should remain constant.

Unless keeping other nutrient-demanding corals, dosing is not necessary. Before you know it, you will probably reach a point where your mushroom population gets out of hand and you will have to remove some.

Otherwise, mushroom corals can adapt to most water parameters as long as they are in the standard range recommended for a reef tank. Of all parameters, these corals will especially appreciate nitrates as too clean of an aquarium can starve the coral in the long run. Mushroom corals can safely be added to new tanks that might fluctuate more in water quality.

In fact, many hobbyists use mushrooms as a warning coral. While most mushroom corals can adapt to changes in conditions, they will shrivel up and excrete mucus when they are stressed. This can be a good indicator that something is majorly wrong in the tank before fish and invertebrates start being affected as well.

Feeding

Feeding your mushroom coral is not necessary. In some cases, feedings won’t show any results and excess nutrients are introduced into the tank.

However, some types of mushroom corals can be very eager to eat and will enjoy smaller foods. Still, it isn’t recommended to feed more than two times a week to avoid excess waste and to give your coral time to digest.

Ricordea spp. care

Some hobbyists have difficulty keeping ricordeas happy in their tank, specifically R. yuma. There are a few reasons why your ricordeas aren’t doing well in your aquarium and it starts with importation.

Because ricordeas can be found close offshore of Florida, there are large populations of wild-caught mushrooms available for sale. This means that all the hardiness that aquaculture brings with other mushrooms has not been evolved by this genus. This can make ricordeas more demanding when it comes to flow, lighting, and stability.

Ricordeas seem to do best under moderate water movement and moderate light with a good source of nutrients available. It is also important to make sure that your mushrooms are healthy when introducing them into your display as wild-caught corals can bring disease and pests into the tank.

However, if you’ve fixed placement and lighting conditions and your ricordeas are still melting, there is not much else you can do. Some aquariums just can’t support some corals no matter how much we try. The best thing to try is finding an alternative or setting up another aquarium completely with ricordea in mind.

What Are Good Tankmates For Mushroom Corals?

Firefish

Mushroom corals can be kept with a variety of reef-safe fish and invertebrates. Ricordea species are a favorite for biotope setups with macroalgae and other soft corals with endemic fish species, though they can be kept in all other reef setups as well. The way mushrooms grow and their size make them ideal for nano reef tanks.

The main problem you will want to look out for is if your mushroom seems to be closed the better majority of the time. This could be a sign that something in your display is walking over it or stinging it. For the most part, though, mushroom corals are pretty resilient and will learn goby fish or snail habits and will stop closing up at the first touch.

Of course, fish and invertebrates that are not reef-safe should never be placed with coral. This is especially true as mushrooms can excrete a lot of mucus that can get caught around the tank.

Are Mushroom Corals Toxic?

Though mushrooms can be pretty messy once they get stressed out, these strings of slime and mucus are nothing to worry about. Mushrooms don’t carry any toxins that are comparable to the deadly palytoxin contained in zoas and palys.

If you find that your mushroom coral is shedding slime, you may run carbon in your filter and run a protein skimmer until conditions clear up.

How To Frag Mushroom Corals

Propagating mushroom corals is easy and is usually necessary once colonies start overcrowing rocks and other corals. These corals have a unique feature that allows them to regenerate from a small piece of flesh. First, we need to understand how mushrooms reproduce on their own.

Mushroom corals largely undergo asexual reproduction in the aquarium. However, how they reproduce is dependent on the species of coral. These are two ways that you may see your mushrooms splitting:

  1. Mushroom corals have the ability to split into two. Your mushroom coral may start to form an odd figure-8 shape where there have noticeably short and long sides of their polyp. During this time, you might even be able to see two independent mouths forming in the center. Eventually, these two sides will split into two new polyps.
  2. Mushrooms can also leave a piece of themselves behind, which will then grow into a whole new polyp; this is known as pedal laceration. In cases like this, you will see your coral stretching in one direction with one section of the foot taut. Eventually, the main foot will detach from this part and the piece will develop a recognizable polyp within a few weeks.

It should be noted that mushrooms that are looking to detach from rocks and move to a new place may also look like #2 and can leave behind a piece in the process.

When fragging, we try to emulate natural splitting. There are two main ways that mushroom corals can be fragged:

  1. Take a mushroom polyp that is attached to a small piece of rock. Use a scalpel to divide the coral down the middle near the mouth as it would divide on its own. Then, take a bone cutter and split the rock in half; this helps with the issue of a mobile frag and keeps the two pieces from rejoining.
  2. If you’re dealing with a mushroom that isn’t attached to a surface, then you will need another method similar to when you first introduced the coral into your tank. Simply cut the mushroom once down the middle again, or as many times as you would like. Then, use a controlled environment with low flow or use a permeable container that gives time for the frag to attach to a new surface.

Once the coral has attached itself and fully healed, it is time to move the mushroom to the desired place in the tank or give it away to another hobbyist.

Mushrooms are extremely forgiving of being fragged and can survive multiple slicings. It is usually not necessary to dip them before being placed back into the display, but iodine or another coral dip may be used for extra security. If you would like a more visual guide, here is a nice video from Reef Life Aquatics.

Controlling Mushroom Coral Growth

Though mushrooms can fill empty spaces in the aquarium, they can also quickly start to get out of hand. Because of their ability to regrow from a small piece, it can be very difficult to control populations once established.

If your mushrooms are confined to one section then one of the easiest, but definitely not one of the most convenient, ways to fix this is by removing the whole rock from the display. Sadly, this will remove some of the beneficial bacteria from your tank but it ensures that the mushrooms are gone for good.

If you have mushrooms growing on multiple surfaces throughout the display, then this will be much more difficult and a longer struggle. This method involves removing the mushrooms one by one by hand. Simply keep removing any mushrooms you see and try to scrape away as much of the flesh as possible.

If you’re comfortable with bringing in some chemical options, then anything that is meant to kill Aiptasia will also work on a mushroom coral, like Aiptasia-X. You will need to be careful as these solutions can also damage other nearby corals.

Kills Aiptasia
Aiptasia-X

A great solution for target elimination of Aiptasia in a reef tank.

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One of the last ways to deal with explosive mushroom growth is by reducing the number of available nutrients in the water column. However, this can be tricky and can have ill effects on the rest of your reef.

Mushroom corals thrive in dirtier water. Once those nutrients are taken away, growth should hypothetically decrease along with them. This method is only recommended for experts in water chemistry.

Closing Thoughts

Mushrooms are an understated coral that can bring color to low flow areas of the display with low light conditions. With such a large variety of mushrooms to choose from, there are colors and patterns for everyone.

These corals can spread very quickly, so population control will be needed to keep numbers in check or to regularly frag new pieces. Otherwise, they will continue to grow wherever they can when nutrients are available.

by Mark

Mark is the founder of Aquarium Store Depot. He started in the aquarium hobby at the age of 11 and along the way worked at local fish stores. He has kept freshwater tanks, ponds, and reef tanks for over 25 years. His site was created to share his knowledge and unique teaching style on a larger scale. He has worked on making aquarium and pond keeping approachable. Mark has been featured in two books about aquarium keeping - both best sellers on Amazon. Each year, he continues to help his readers and clients with knowledge, professional builds, and troubleshooting.

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