Xenia Coral Care: The Complete Guide

Xenia is a lovely coral that looks like tiny dancing trees in a tank. The fronds pulse in the water as the delicately colored coral gently moves with the current. Despite the movement of the Xenia, this coral divides communities of reef keepers everywhere. Many novice reefers love this coral and praise its hardiness. Many expert reef keepers despise it and refuse to put it in a tank. See what makes this finicky coral a challenge and why it is worth debating.

All About Xenia

Xenia is a soft coral with which reef keepers share a love-hate relationship.It can be effortless to keep in the right tank with the right conditions, or it may be a constant battle and, for some, never be able to survive in their tank. They are incredible corals if you like them, and they can add a uniquness to a tank.

One of the best things about this coral is that most frags purchased for a reef tank today are aquacultured. This means they are born and raised in a tank and not harvested from the ocean. This makes Xenia coral a sustainable choice if you are concerned with the impact coral harvesting has on our oceans and global warming.

Original Habitat

In the wild, Xenia is found in the waters surrounding Indonesia and the Great Barrier Reef. They are sometimes found in shallow water but can also be found at depths up to about 30 meters deep. This indicates that the Xenia in your tank is going to want water on the warm side.


Xenia is one of the peaceful corals you can place in a reef tank. They will not sting other corals, nor do they have any weapons of chemical warfare like a soft leather coral. They will produce mucus that can irritate other soft corals around them. This mucus can capture bacteria that then slowly eat the coral.

Xenia is also some of the fastest-growing coral. This is increased further by the fact that the Xenia are almost all aquacultured, making them hardier and increasing their growth rate significantly. They use this rate of growth in the wild to ensure their survival. Many marine creatures love to eat Xenia, so they must continue multiplying to replenish colonies lost to hungry passers-by.

Xenia: To Pulse or Not to Pulse?

Xeniidae is the scientific classification for the 60-plus types of Xenia coral in the ocean and hobbyists’ tanks. Xenia are all distinctively similar in appearance. They look almost like mushrooms, except they branch into “arms,” which further branch into many-fingered “hands.”

On many varieties, the “hands” of the Xenia pulse. They seem to clutch at the water, and in this movement, they keep water moving past their limbs. This is essential to their nutrient levels because Xenia remove them from the water that flows past.

The most common type of Xenia is often labeled as “pulsing xenia” or “pom pom” xenia. It can be a variety of shades from light pink, to pale blue, to white, yet the most popular color for hobbyists has got to be purple. Purple is rarely found in coral, yet it looks spectacular under the lights you need for a reef habitat. And at about $30 a frag, even the most popular colors are highly affordable. Just one more reason beginner reef keepers like it.

Not all Xenia will Pulse

With so many Xenia varieties, it is no surprise that not every type will pulse in the tank. The ones that do pulse are a sight to behold and will mesmerize you with the gentle opening and closing of the fronds. Xenia have a unique way of moving, so regardless of whether or not they genuinely pulse, they have a beautiful way of shimmying and dancing in the current that will still delight the observer.

Xenia Needs a Goldilocks Tank

When saying Xenia needs a “goldilocks” tank, this reflects the idea that a tank that grows Xenia successfully will have conditions that are “just right” for them.. If you can find the sweet spot, your tank might overflow with Xenia in no time flat.

Water Parameters

As with all corals, you need to pay attention to the water parameters in your tank. This is slightly different with xeniidae, though, as the water cannot be too clean, or they will not grow and possibly might not even open. Pay attention a little differently with the Xenia, and you will be rewarded for your hard work.


Xenia is sensitive to changes in salinity. They require the salinity to remain with specific gravity as stable as possible between 1.023 and 1.025. Many reefers find that Xenia is an excellent indicator of the salt levels in a tank due to the way they stop pulsing or curl up when the salinity is too high due to evaporation. Watch to see if you need a salinity check.

Alkalinity and pH

While alkalinity isn’t as dire with these soft corals, the degrees of hardness should sit between eight and twelve dKh. The Xenia relies on dissolved nutrients, the organic matter left over from feeding fish and the detritus that naturally accumulates in the tank. As a soft coral, Xenia is not as reliant on alkalinity, so there is a wide parameter for it.

Xenia is sensitive to pH but can tolerate it anywhere from 8.1 to 8.4. They do not accept the pH fluctuating well, so try to keep it as level and steady as possible so the Xenia will continue to open and pulse happily in the tank.

Dirty Water Growth

Xenia is coral known to do exceptionally well in one person’s reef tank but can be a total disaster in a similar setup. Xenia is a coral that likes the water to have some nitrate and phosphates. They won’t grow in the tanks that are super clean the way other corals may need the water.

When the water has just the right dissolved phosphates and enough nitrates, the combination creates a perfect storm, and the Xenia can grow unchecked. They will grow incredibly quickly and take over every available space in the tank. Xenia is even known to take over and edge other coral out with the rapidity of their growth. For this reason, quite a few aquarists keep tanks that are species specific and only hold Xenia.

Delightful Accommodations

Once the water is suitable, you want to ensure perfect decor. Xenia is mainly photosynthetic. This means the symbiotic zooxanthellae will provide most of the food they need. The other nutrients they need are found within the water column and absorbed as the Xenia pulse and pass the water over their bodies. They need the right environment to be able to continue this capability.


The lighting in a tank with coral photosynthetically feeding is vital to the success of the coral. In order to photosynthesize, the Xenia need to get enough light without having to strain to do so. But they also live deeper in the ocean than some coral, so they don’t want the light to be too bright. So intense, but not too bright. Find this sweet spot for Xenia. Any type of light works well, but with T5 lights you can ge the actinic light that makes the Xenia really pop.


Xenia is also a coral that needs a precise amount of flow. Yes, the pulsing variety will create their flow. Still, they and other types of Xenia will need a low to moderate flow passing over them to be happy and open up in the tank. If Xenia gets too much flow, its unique movement will be disrupted, and it will probably not proliferate.

Placement and Size Recommendations

Lighting and flow are a big part of deciding where in a tank you want to or should place the Xenia. You want them to be in a deeper, less luminous part of the tank with enough, but not too much flow. It would help if you also considered Xenia a highly vigorous grower. Where they end up in a tank is crucial, so they don’t overgrow and take all the territory for the other coral.

A good rule of thumb is to place them about four to five inches from other corals near the bottom of the tank. This little space can protect other corals from being over-run and keep them from irritated by the mucus the Xenia can excrete. You can grow Xenia in any size tank with these precautions in mind. Some hobbyists will opt for a Xenia-only tank to prevent any potential problems from arising.

Water Changes

There are several thought schools about changing water for Xenia coral. Three options are the most commonly seen. The trick with these is maintaining dirty-ish water in the tank but still replenishing the nutrients that fresh saltwater helps provide to the aquarium.

Three ways to do a water change are:

  • Once a month, remove and replace 20 percent of the tank water. This might be a bit much depending on the other marine creatures in the tank.
  • Bi-weekly remove and replace 10 percent of the tank water. This is the option most often used.
  • Weekly remove and replace five percent of the tank water. This could go either way, depending on the tank you are keeping.

Any of these options are safe for preventing spikes in a tank; it is more of a question of what you’re willing to do and how your tank’ other inhabitants respond. That should allow you to make the best choice for you and your reef.

Fellows in the Tank

There are so many fish that you can keep with Xenia! Yet you do need to be somewhat careful. Xenia will be left alone by most, but there are a few exceptions.


All reef-safe fish will do fine with the Xenia. Suppose you are looking for something that will eat the Xenia to keep it from getting out of control. In that case, the Blue Tang is surprisingly effective as they will nibble the tips, keep the Xenia at bay and leave other things alone.

Filefish also behave this way and should avoid eating anything but Xenia and Aiptasia, a bonus. Some also say that Pyramid butterflyfish can be effective, but they are know to eat other corals as well so be careful. Almost all the other fish will be safe, save for the aberrant fish that gets a taste for Xenia.

Also, watch out for a crustacean known as a Xenia crab. This little guy will wait until the Xenia closes at night and then go to work. They perch on the top of the coral and eat away until all the polyp is gone. They can decimate the coral reasonably quickly in this way.

Coral Neighbors

Most soft coral can be kept with the Xenia. Its rapid growth rate will overtake many other corals, so keeping them separate and trimming them is essential. You can use tweezers or a razor blade to remove the entire Xenia carefully. Getting the base is critical. Then they won’t overrun the tank or create too much mucus that will irritate other coral.

Should Xenia Be Fed Supplementally?

This is a question that reefers debate often. Xenia is almost entirely photosynthetic due to zooxanthellae, and whatever nutrients they need after that supplement with the elements and organics dissolved in the water they live in. This is why they thrive so well in water that it is less than perfect. You do not ever need to feed your Xenia. However, some claim they can grow even faster if you choose to do so, but they don’t need extra to survive.

Xenia’s Potential Problems

Xenia corals are subject to some interesting issues that other corals are not. They can bleach like all coral can or succumb to disease, but you should be aware of a few species-specific things if you keep Xenia in your tank.

Bad Moon Rising

Xenia is prone to what is described as a cyclical death corresponding with Lunar events. You might be able to save some of the colony, but this is a natural process and comes without any warning. The reason that is favored as the cause depends on the Earth’s physical distance from the moon and how this affects currents and tidal flow. Just be careful.

Handle with Care

Xenia is coral that does not travel well. They are easily stressed out, and there are problems this causes. When shipped in water, the excess mucus they create contaminates them and can attract bacteria depending on how long they are in it. The bacteria will subsequently eat away at the coral until it dies. This is prevented by shipping the coral out of the water to avoid contamination. However, it can only be sent a certain distance in this manner.

Keeping Xenia at Bay

Xenia management is of the utmost importance. You must pay attention to ensure they don’t overgrow other coral. This can be achieved by careful trimming to remove polyps that are getting too close to other corals. You can also employ another fish to eat them and trim the Xenia. You can also choose to keep the Xenia nearby a stinging coral, like a torch, which will keep them from growing too big by stinging.

There’s No Reason to Hate Xenia

Xenia is an exciting addition to reef tanks for many reasons, including the hypnotic way so many varieties seem to pulse under optimal conditions. They can add pops of color and interest for many tanks, but remember that these corals need a few special considerations. They also have specific maintenance concerns. Yet, if you love them, you’ll love them as they fill the underwater community in your home with spirited movement.