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Intro to Pipe Organ Corals

Pipe Organ corals (Tubipora musica) are absolutely amazing in my opinion.  They build red tubes for each polyp, and the varying heights of those tubes makes the coral look like…wait for it…a pipe organ!  The green variety makes a great alternative to green star polyps for those who like the wavy green mats but would like something a bit less invasive.    

White variety of Pipe Organ coral

Pipe organ corals are usually mistakenly categorized as “large polyp stony corals” as they form solid tubes, but they are actually classified as soft corals.  However, their care level is more intensive than most soft corals.

When I entered the reefkeeping hobby over five years ago, Pipe Organ corals were on the no-no list as they typically slowly diminished in most aquariums.  Of course, as a newbie, I didn’t do my research and bought a fantastic green one.  Somehow, some way, I managed to keep it…and it thrived!  Over the several years I had it, I fragged it over a hundred times.  When a local fish store heard of my success, they gave me a dying white one (truly white, not bleached) to try.  Again, I had success! 
“Browned out” green variety growing successfully
So, based on my success, here are a few pointers:
Quarantine and Treatment:
Since the coral is made of tubes, there are tons of perfect living spaces for all sorts of creatures.  Be aware that the pipe organ could harbor bristle worms, flat worms, and lots of detritus.  Use of a good coral dip and quarantine will help prevent unwanted organisms.
Lots of holes for critters
Lighting:
The green variety definitely requires higher light than the white variety as it easily will brown out.  I usually kept the green ones up on the rocks with my SPS corals and the white ones down on the sand bed.
Flow:
This is tricky.  Flow must be high enough to prevent detritus from settling on/in the tubes, but low enough to not whip the delicate polyps around.  Detritus settlement is a huge concern as it will fuel algal growth, which will in turn out grow the coral.
Nutrients:
As stated above, nutrients are a huge concern as any algae covering the tubes will prevent the coral from extending its polyps.  I do not recommend pipe organ corals for aquariums having an issue with cyanobacteria, hair algae, or other invasive alga.  If the coral is not opening, the tubes can be blown off lightly with a turkey baster to help remove detritus.
In my experience, pipe organs don’t appreciate target feeding.  I’ve tried various foods and various methods, but they all result in the coral polyps “wilting”.  As soon as the food touches their polyps, the tentacles just shrivel and droop, which more resembles a defense mechanism than feeding.
Fragging:
I believe the lack of success years ago came from poor fragging.  Most colonies imported were chopped very close to the top of the polyp, which ended up chopping the body of the polyp itself.  I highly discourage the use of bone cutters on pipe organs since the cutters are more likely to crush the coral than cut it.  Instead, I recommend a razor blade.  Cut a healthy specimen from the top downward, hopefully going between tubes.  Keep as much tube height as possible as it is hard to determine where the polyp is inside.  Use cyanoacrylate (super glue gel) to mount the frag on a piece of rubble or plug.  Within about a week, small fleshy bumps should appear (like below) as the start of new tubes.
Week-old frags with new buds starting to form
When all else fails:

If a pipe organ dies, its skeleton is still useful.  They are gorgeous additions to fish-only aquariums due to their bright red natural coloration.  They are also great in sumps due to their porosity (great hiding places for all sorts of critters.)  My favorite way to recycle the skeleton is to crush it up and add it to a white sand bed.  The red dots contrast beautifully with a stark white background.

Conclusion:

Pipe Organ corals are a beautiful addition to a reef tank, and they do not deserve the reputation they have received.      

2 comments

  1. Walter Plucinski

    You wrote this article so long ago, and it’s a top result on google, but I don’t see any comments. I just wanted to let you know how helpful it was to me, as I have a green variety and a pinkish variety I got as frags, and I absolutely love it. It’s grown to baseball size. Thanks for all the hard work you put into your article!

    1. admin

      Hi Walter! Thank you so much for the kind words of encouragement! I’m glad it was helpful, although it sounds like you were doing great anyway! Baseball size? Those must be beautiful!

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