Pulsing Xenia Care

Pulsing Xenia is one of the most common corals for beginners, and with good reason! It has beautiful motion and form, it’s on the easier side of maintenance and it grows like crazy. While its care is easy, however, there are still some definite tricks that you’ll want to pick up when you’re caring for them.

So, let’s dive right in and I’ll give you an overlook of Pulsing Xenia care that you can take action on today!

pulsing xenia


Pulsing Xenia Cheat Sheet

  • Classification: Xenia elongata
  • Water Temperature: 72° to 78°F (22° to 26°C)
  • Salinity: 1.024 – 1.025 (32 – 35 ppt)
  • pH: 8.1-8.4
  • Lighting: Low to Medium
  • Flow: Low to Medium
  • Type: Large Polyp Soft Coral
  • Diet: Plankton
  • Size: 3”
  • Compatibility: High, but problems with overgrowth
  • Temperament: Peaceful


Pulsing Xenia is a soft coral with long polyps that end in a small star-shaped protrusion of bristled tendrils. The colors range widely, but the most common color ranges are a bit more subdued. The majority of specimens are a light peach to light brown color, which naturally changes depending on the lighting they’re under.

Instead, the beauty lies in watching the extended polyps in the current, in addition to their unique pulsing behavior. Some subtypes of Xenia elongata will “pulse” constantly, opening and closing the stars at the end of their polyps.

The reason for this behavior isn’t actually for feeding. These corals are largely from waters with low flow and the feathered heads pulsing creates an increased, localized flow for the coral. These coral get most of their nutrients from their light source with the rest coming in the form of plankton.

Different Xenia species and subspecies pulse at different rates. Some, like the light brown Pom Pom Xenia, will pulsate constantly while others will be a bit more subdued.

The pulsing action, combined with easy care requirements, has made them a fast favorite among reef keepers. While it’s a great newbie coral, there are some caveats to care about that I’ll cover in a moment.

Ideal Tank Conditions

The Pulsing Xenia prefers an environment that has moderate lighting in the correct spectrum, and middling flow. Even better, they actually thrive when the water is high in nitrates.

The Pulsing Xenia is one of the few corals that actually grows a bit too much for most people’s liking. If you take a look at what it needs, it’s easy to see why it’s a favorite for beginners: it thrives specifically in the conditions that are often created as an inexperienced aquarist learns the hobby.

All of this makes them very easy to keep.

One small suggestion: try to avoid sticking Xenia elongata in tanks 10 gallons or under if you’re planning on having some diversity with your corals. It’ll take over too quickly and can overrun corals that lack their high growth potential.

If your flow rate is too high, the Pulsing Xenia will stop pulsing. Remember that it’s an adaptation to create a higher flow of water in the low-flow areas that they’re naturally from.

The Pulsing Xenia doesn’t require any special tank requirements. Any tank capable of supporting coral will allow Xenia elongata to thrive.

One thing of note: Pulsing Xenia seems to thrive in environments with high nitrates, with a corresponding increase in their level of growth. This is great for beginners who aren’t used to balancing a tank, but you should still aim to lower nitrates to avoid problems with overgrowth.


The Pulsing Xenia is compatible with the majority of reef animals and corals. It’s non-aggressive and doesn’t seem to have any means of attacking other corals or critters.

They don’t even need feeding, since they get the majority of their nutrients from the lighting of the aquarium and the rest from plankton in the waters.

You may have trouble with Pulsing Xenia overgrowing other corals, however, so you’ll want to make sure that you know some control protocols before you place it in your new reef tank.

Propagation and Control

Propagation of this species is easy enough, handling the individual frags while you’re getting them set up is a bit of a pain. The coral itself doesn’t have any real internal structure, so it can feel like chasing around bits of gelatin.

Understanding propagation and controlling growth is the key to making sure that your Xenia elongata is going to do great. You don’t really need to propagate them, but the basic ideas behind doing so will also help with controlling them.

Creating Frags of Pulsing Xenia

For the most part, frags are easy to create from this coral. It cuts easily, so you don’t need any specialized tools, and it’s not particularly fragile as a cutting. You can just cut off a bit and get it settled somewhere else without too many extra preparations.

Cutting is easy. Just snip them with a pair of sharp scissors.

The problem comes in handling. The polyps don’t have much form to them, and very little weight, which can make it hard to get them to attach to a frag plug. You also can’t just glue them down, it will cause a defensive reaction from the coral and the slime will most likely keep them from attaching to the plugs.

I’ve seen a wide variety of things tried:

  1. Rubber Bands- Rubber bands seem to work well enough but can damage the coral. Many people won’t use them, understandably, but it’s a simple way to do things if you’re having trouble with another method.
  2. Low Flow Basket- A frag rack or plastic basket that interrupts flow sometimes works, but the water has to be exceptionally low flow. You may need to baby the basket, pushing the corals back on.
  3. Pebble Substrate- You can create a bed of pebbles in your basket and then place the Xenia cuttings on them. They’ll often attach to pebbles overnight, allowing you to glue the pebbles to a proper plug if you carefully avoid letting the coral be exposed to the glue itself.

Which method you use is entirely up to you.

One method for those who aren’t too concerned with control is just to place some plugs and small rocks near the coral and allow it to grow onto them. You can then remove those stones once the coral has spread and glue them to plugs or move them to another tank.

Propagating Pulsing Xenia is almost too easy, it’s growth control that most people are going to end up having a problem with.

Controlling the Growth of Pom Pom Xenia

Once established, Pulsing Xenia tend to be extremely aggressive in their growth patterns. This is doubly true in tanks with high nitrates, which is a common “feature” for those who aren’t experienced in dealing with marine systems.

Some basic growth control measures are often necessary to keep the coral from overtaking the tank. In tanks 10 gallons or smaller, it’s wise to consider using these as the only coral in the tank.

The first protocol is simple: Keep your Xenia at least 4-6” away from other corals, live rock, and anything else the coral can attach to. This basic control method can solve most problems, but it’s not always possible.

The other mechanical thing you can do is place the coral relatively high up in the tank. Xenia doesn’t spread downwards with as much aggression as it does to the sides or upwards and a good initial location will help control its spread.

Keeping phosphates and nitrates low is your best chemical defense against Xenia spreading rapidly. This really just means keeping a squeaky clean tank to the best of your ability.

You also need to keep an eye out for roaming polyps. On occasion one of the polyps will decide it’s time to move to greener pastures and let go of the rock it’s on. It’ll then be guided by the current until it ends up on a rock somewhere and begins the process again.

Removing these roamers as soon as they’re noticed is important.

You should also check the tank regularly to make sure that you didn’t get a loose polyp somewhere that’s hard to reach. Since the polyps can float freely they can end up in a lot of “fun” spots in the tank, especially in those tanks with a lot of rocks.

The last bit is simple: you’ll need to prune your Pulsing Xenia on occasion to keep it under control. This is simple and just involves removing polyps with a pair of scissors or trimmers. You can frag them for other uses (store credit, anyone?) or dispose of them after the cutting.

Pulsing Xenia and You

The Pulsing Xenia is a beautiful, easy-to-keep coral that has few problems associated with its care. If you can keep your marine system alive then you’ll have no trouble keeping a colony in your tank. It’s just a matter of controlling the growth through mechanical and chemical means to avoid issues with other corals.

So, how do you plan to use yours?