SUMMARY Many terrestrial plants form complex morphological structures and will alter these growth patterns in response to light direction. Similarly reef building corals have high morphological variation across coral families, with many species also displaying phenotypic plasticity across environmental gradients. In particular, the colony geometry in branching corals is altered by the frequency, location and direction of branch initiation and growth. This study demonstrates that for the branching species Acropora pulchra ,light plays a key role in axial polyp differentiation and therefore axial corallite development – the basis for new branch formation. A. pulchra branches exhibited a directional growth response, with axial corallites only developing when light was available, and towards the incident light. Field experimentation revealed that there was a light intensity threshold of 45 μmol m –2 s –1 , below which axial corallites would not develop and this response was blue light(408–508 nm) dependent. There was a twofold increase in axial corallite growth above this light intensity threshold and a fourfold increase in axial corallite growth under the blue light treatment. These features of coral branch growth are highly reminiscent of the initiation of phototropic branch growth in terrestrial plants, which is directed by the blue light component of sunlight.