The cool Cabbage Leather Coral… you can’t ask for an easier or more plentiful soft coral!
One of the best known octocorals is the Cabbage Leather Coral Lobophytum crassum. They are a soft coral that have a thick and heavy “skin” with lobed projections, and form a low encrusting colony. They resemble a cabbage in that their curved, cupped shape looks like a large ruffled leaf. Some other descriptive common names include Rabbit Ear Leather Coral, Flower Coral, and Lobed Leather Coral.
The Cabbage Leather Coral is a hardy, adaptable coral. They come from a wide variety of environments at depths of 20 to 60 (6 to 18 m). They are found near the shore on shallow waters reef flats, where they are most prolific, as well as turbid lagoons attached to rubble. Some are exposed to low tide as well. The Lobophytum species are some of the first soft corals to enter the aquarium trade because they travel well.
The polyps of the Cabbage Leather Coral are on the outside edge of the “leaves”. They look more like tufts instead of the fully developed polyps seen on other corals. When feeding the polyps are out, and as nutrients are captured, the polyps retract. The flesh feels grainy, and can be brittle, so handle with care.
In the wild, the colors of the L. crassum are light brown, with sometimes lighter contrasting colored polyps sparsely scattered across the surface. But they can range from dull gray, pink, cream, brownish, green, yellow and many colors in-between those shades. In captivity Intense greens, yellows and pinks have been specifically used for coral farming. With these pretty colors and their interesting shape, they make great additions to a reef display.
The Cabbage Leather Corals produce less mucous and are one of the more forgiving of the leather corals. Being quite durable, they can be easy to care for and easy to propagate. They also are not as sensitive to handling, especially when propagation is done.These characteristics not only make them a great beginners coral, but rewarding for advanced aquarists too.
Moderate water movement and a medium to strong light is recommended. For nutrition they use the symbiotic algae, zooxanthellae, that lives within their tissue, and also extract nutrients from the water. In a mature system they really do not need to be fed at all, but do need more intense lighting for good zooxanthellae growth. Some leather corals can be aggressive but this species is easy to contain and keep from touching anything.
To learn about other types of soft corals, see:
Soft Coral Facts
This leather coral is one of over 40 species in the Lobophytum genus. They have fully retractable polyps and this genus has a short wide low stalk and has folds across its upper surface that are crowded planted or fingerlike. The shapes of this genus can be bowl, dish or upright and shed mucus that should be kept off of other corals. Moderate light and moderate water flow and good calcium levels will help this coral grow quickly. Feed them foods that filter feeders eat.
Species: Lobophytum crassum
Distribution / Background
Leather Coral Information: The Lobophytum genus was described by Marenzeller in 1886. They belong to the family Alcyoniidae, which are referred to as octocorals. There are over 43 species of Lobophytum. Some of their common names are Lobophytum Species, Finger Leather Coral, Lobed Leather Coral, Thick Finger Coral, Devil’s Hand Coral, and Cabbage Leather Coral. They have been propagated in captivity, and the intense greens, yellows and pinks have been specifically used for coral farming, and make great additions to an aquarium display.
Where Lobophytum Corals Are Found: The Lobophytum genus are found in the Indo-Pacific and Red Sea.
Lobophytum Coral Habitat: The Lobophytum genus inhabits depths of 20 to 60 feet (6 to 18 m). They are found near the shore in shallow waters on reef flats, where they are most prolific, and can also be found in turbid lagoons attached to rubble, and other diverse locations. Some are even exposed to low tide at which time they become flaccid, loosing much of the water contained in the coral, and conform to the contours of the substrate. When the tide comes back in they re-absorb water and become erect again. Solar radiation, high temperatures, and high salinity can be tolerated for a short time.
The Lobophytum genus is not on the IUCN Red List for Endangered Species.
What do Lobophytum Corals look like: The Lobophytum are a soft coral that have a thick and heavy “skin” with lobed projections, that form low encrusting colonies. They do resemble cabbage in that their curved, cupped shape looks more like a large ruffled leaf. The polyps are tufted tentacles that can completely retract. They are equally distributed on the coral, or in the case of a Cabbage Leather Coral, on the outside edge of the “leaves” on . When feeding the polyps are out, and as nutrients are captured, the polyps retract. The flesh feels grainy, and can be brittle, so handle with care. Colors range from dull gray, pink, cream, brownish, green, yellow and many colors in-between those shades. It is unknown how long these corals live.
Difficulty of Care
Leather Coral Care: The Cabbage Leather Coral Lobophytum sp. is very easy to keep and propagate, making them a great coral for the beginner. Most of the Leather corals go through a period of slothing off their mucous layer, during which it fails to expand. It will also shed if conditions are not right or something is bothering it. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference. This leather can hurt other corals if it is touching them, so be sure to leave enough room between species.
Foods / Feeding
Leather Coral Feeding: In the wild, Lobophytum corals have developed several feeding strategies. They capture microscopic food particles from the water column, can absorb dissolved organic matter, and have a symbiotic relationship with a marine algae known as zooxanthellae, where they also receive some of their nutrients.
In captivity the Cabbage Leather Coral may be fed phyto- and micro- zooplankton, but do well with extracting nutrients from the water and really do not need to be fed at all in mature systems. For maximum growth, more intense lighting is needed since this type of coral thrives more on light, which supports its zooxanthellae, than foods.
Stable tank conditions are needed to keep the Lobophytum genus. Doing water changes of 20% a month or 10% biweekly is needed, although it is suggested that doing 5% water changes once a week will replenish many of the needed additives. Soft corals still need to have proper chemical levels for proper growth.
Iodine is used up quickly in captive environments, and does need to be added to the top off water or to the tank regularly. Make sure you have a test to make sure your levels are sufficient. Frequent water changes are preferred over adding other supplements.
Suggested levels for Lobophytum species are:
- Calcium: 385 – 450 ppm (Seachem makes a calcium additive that states 385 as sufficient. Anything over 400 tends to wear on pumps and other moving parts.)
- Alkalinity: 3.2 – 4.8 MEQ/L (8 to 12 dKh – 10 is recommended)
- Phosphates: 0, zero.
- Magnesium: 1200 – 1350 ppm. (Magnesium makes calcium available, so if your calcium is low, check your magnesium levels before adding any more calcium.)
- Strontium: 8 – 10
|Quick Reference Chart|
A typical live rock/reef environment is what is needed for your Cabbage Leather Coral, along with some fish for organic matter production and plenty of room to grow..
Provide proper lighting and water movement. They need a moderate to strong water flow. They also like moderate to high lighting, allow more time to adjust to metal halides. If you have weaker lighting place them closer to the top, but closer to the bottom if you have stronger lights. The Lobophytum genus is semi-aggressive toward other sensitive corals, like the stony corals.
- Minimum Tank Size / Length:50 gallon (190 L) or larger
- Marine Lighting: Moderate to high, allow more time to adjust to metal halides.
- Temperature: 76Â° – 82Â° F (24Â° – 28Â° C)
- Salinity / Specific Gravity: 1.023 – 1.025
- Water Movement: Moderate to strong, and indirect is best
- Water Region: Top placement if you have weaker lights and bottom if you have stronger lights.
Compatibility and Social Behaviors
The Cabbage Leather Coral is semi-aggressive. Although the Lobophytum sp. is not as toxic as some leathers, they can still be dangerous to sensitive corals like stony corals. It has been stated by experts that the presence of this coral in an aquarium can inhibit growth of certain stony corals, although with an excellent filtration system and large water volume, this problem may not stunt their growth as much.
When slothing off their mucous layer, be sure that the current will not allow this mucous to land on other corals. At first this gel like mucous was thought to be sloughed off to get rid of disease or to regenerate. This is has actually not been substantiated and scientists are still trying to figure out the reason for this behavior. The side benefit is to keep algae from accumulating, but that is not determined as the reason they shed.
In the wild they are frequently gnawed on by snails and free-living bristleworms.
Sex – Sexual differences
Males of the Cabbage Leather Coral L. crassum are distinguishable once they are 7″ across (18 cm), 1-2 years old and weigh at least 3 ounces (83 g). At this point gonads are visible. The oocytes (cell that develops to an ovum) in females require 2 years to mature. All colonies are either male or female and do not change sex.
Breeding and Reproduction
The Lobophytum genus will bud or pinch out daughter colonies, and will grow quickly with higher lighting intensities that can be achieved with Metal Halide or natural sunlight. The Cabbage Leather Coral have male and female colonies that result in external fertilization. They typically breed from June to August and a temperature of 77Â° F (25Â° C) is suggested to encourage breeding.
The Cabbage Leather Coral is very easy to propagate, for just a small piece or for a large frag, but with a few variations in procedure. Using either procedure, the coral will more than likely deflate, but with good water flow it will recover. Corals can emit a nasty and at times noxious odor, so be sure there is good ventilation. Clean up any mucous when finished to prevent any possible health problems.
To frag a small piece:
- Make sure your leather is healthy.
- You may use a pair of very sharp scissors or a scalpel.
- Simply cut a small forked frag (1-2″ frag size) away from the mother colony while still in the tank
- Loosely rubber band the frag between branches and affix to a small piece of rubble that has a natural indent or a plug.
For larger fragging:
- The leather coral should have all polyps retracted before proceeding.
- Remove the coral from the tank, and quickly perform the fragmentation from a mother colony with a clean razor, scalpel, or knife. (scissors can damage tissue from larger fragging cuts.)
- Provide a bath of clean, temperature and salinity adjusted, water (same as main tank) with a little iodine before returning to the tank. This bath will help clear out the mucous that the leather will produce from this procedure.
- The frag can be glued, tied, sewn to a rock or plug, or just set on rubble where the current will not take them away, but will help them heal.
- Return the leather to the same spot it was in before fragging and discard bath water.This placement will depend on the size and shape of the frag. At the very minimum place it at least close to where the mother colony is located, perhaps using the mother colony to block a water flow that is too quick for the frag.
The Lobophytum genus is generally very hardy and adaptable, but can contract disease. Coral diseases are commonly caused by stress, shock (like pouring freshwater into the tank and it coming in contact with the leather), and incompatible tank mates including specific fish, or pests. Some diseases and treatments include:
- Flatworms, Brown Jelly Infections, cyanobacteria
Treat with a freshwater dip of 1 to 3 minutes in chlorine free freshwater of the same temperature and pH as the main display.
- Cyanobacteria, Brown Jelly Infections
These can also be treated with Neomycin sulphite, Kanamycin and other broad-spectrum antibiotics. The pill can be pulverised into a fine powder, mixed with sea water to make a paste, and then applied to the wound or affected site of the coral with a simple artists brush.
- Necrosis, Black Band Disease
To prevent necrosis, and fight black band disease, according to one author the corals can be treated with Tetracycline at 10 mg per quart/liter.
- Lugol’s Solution (as a preventative/cure)
Use a Lugol’s dip at 5-10 drops of 5% Lugol’s solution per quart/liter of newly mixed sea water that has been mixing for 10-20 minutes. Start with a 10 minute dip and observe the reaction of the coral. A daily dip can be done until the coral is cured.
One procedure that can save a coral’s life if nothing else is working is amputation of the affected area. This must be done in a separate container consisting of some of the tank’s water. Cut slightly into healthy tissue surrounding the diseased flesh then reattach the coral to the substrate with the open wound cemented on part of the reef structure.
- “Liquid Band Aid”
For wounds that are on the side or top, some have used “liquid band aid” or super glue to seal the wound.
Soft Corals for Sale: The Cabbage Leather Coral Lobophytum sp. is very easy to find pet shops and on line. Online they can run about $25.00 to $45.00 USD and up, depending on size and/or color.
- Animal-World References: Marine and Reef
- Eric Borneman, Aquarium Corals : Selection, Husbandry, and Natural History , TFH Publications, 2001
- Anthony Calfo, Book of Coral Propagation, Volume 1 Edition 2: Reef Gardening for Aquarists, Reading Trees; 2nd edition, 2007
- Ronald L. Shimek, Guide to Marine Invertebrates: 500+ Essential-to-Know Aquarium Species, Microcosm, 2005
- Harry Erhardt and Horst Moosleitner, Marine Atlas Volume 2, Invertebrates (Baensch Marine Atlas), Mergus Verlag GmbH, Revised edition, 2005
- Agu Lukk, Propagating Nepthea sp. and Lobophytum crassum, Reefkeeping Magazine, Reef Central, LLC, Copyright 2007-10
- Yamazato, K., M. Sato and H. Yamashiro, Reproductive Biology of an Alcyonacean coral, Lobophytum crassum, ReefBase Online Library, 1982