How to Care for Pulsing Xenia

How to Care for Pulsing Xenia

Pulsing Xenia is a popular and one of the most unique soft corals in the saltwater aquarium hobby.

The coral is ideal for all reef aquarists irrespective of their level of experience because of its hardiness and ease of care. Pulsing Xenia is also known as Pulse coral and Pom Pom coral, and it is noted for the pulsing activity of its beautiful polyps.

Keep reading for more information on the fascinating Pulsing Xenia, including how to frag and care for the soft coral in a reef aquarium.

Quick Notes about Pulsing Xenia

Name Pulsing Xenia
Common Names Pulse coral, Pumping Xenia, Red Sea Xenia, and Pom Pom coral
Scientific Name Xenia elongata
Tank size (minimum) 10 gallons (~40 liters)
Keeping Easy
Propagation Easy to moderate
Medium to high
Water flow Any (low flow for pulsation motion)
Optimal Temperature 22 – 26°C  (~72°F – 78°F)
Optimal Salinity SG = 1.023 – 1.025
Optimal PH 8.1 – 8.4
Optimal KH 8 – 12
Nitrate <0.5 ppm
Feeding Photosynthetic 
Tank placement Low or mid-sections
Growth Rate Fast
Invasive Yes (potentially)
Temper Peaceful
Color Form Pink, tan, grey, cream, and white

Origin of Pulsing Xenia

This coral gets its name from the rhythmic pulsing action of its polyps, and it’s highly sought-after due to this amazing feature.

Pulsing Xenia belongs to the family Xeniidae and genus Xenia, which comprises beautiful, soft corals with fairly large polyps capable of pulsing action.

Additionally, Pulsing Xenia is a hardy, fast-growing coral native to the Indo Pacific and the Red Sea. The taxonomic hierarchy of the Pulsing Xenia coral is summarized below:

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Cnidaria
Class: Anthozoa
Order: Alcyonacea
Family: Xeniidae
Genus: Xenia
Species: Xenia elongata

Habitat of Pulsing Xenia

This colonial animal is naturally domiciled in shallow waters with mild currents in the Indo-Pacific and the Red Sea.

The coral grows quite fast and they are usually found attached to rockwork in the wild.

In captivity, Pulsing Xenia prefers areas with moderate lighting and water movement, and there should be plenty of space in the enclosure to contain new polyps since the coral reproduces rapidly in optimal conditions.

Description of Pulsing Xenia

Pulsing Xenia is a colonial coral with multiple individual polyps often found on a piece of solid substrate e.g. live rock.

Notably, this coral varies in size, from a few inches to over 20 inches (50 cm) across.

Pulsing Xenia is a fast-growing soft coral species that is capable of forming many new polyps in a short period when established, spreading vastly and overrunning the reef tank if left unchecked.

The coral bears multiple polyps on sturdy stalks (2 – 3” long), each stalk ends in a ring of large, feathery pinnate tentacles, usually eight per polyp. Furthermore, the eight-tentacled polyps are able to produce rhythmic pulsing or pumping action by opening and closing their tentacles.

Note: The role of the consistent pulsing action is still unknown, although there are claims that it aids in respiration, enhances the photosynthetic efficiency, and prevents refiltration as well as disposal of gases and waste.

Pulsing Xenia is renowned for its stunning beauty, and it comes available in a range of attractive color morphs such as pink, tan, grey, white, and cream.

Behaviour of Pulsing Xenia

The Pulsing Xenia is a beginner, soft coral species for established reef aquaria.

Pulsing Xenia is a peaceful and reef-compatible species, however, due to its rapid growth, spread and reproductive qualities — it’s best kept in a species-only aquarium.

A single Pulsing Xenia can form over 10 or more coral heads within a few months, and the coral is capable of spreading vastly on rockwork and growing over sessile animals in the tank.

The aforementioned qualities are aided by its strong nutrient absorption from the tank water through the soft tissue body parts. Thus, the Pulsing Xenia will likely outcompete other corals and anemones in your aquarium for nutrients and space, and it can also take over the whole tank if neglected.

Therefore you are required to maintain a minimum spacing of 6 inches (15 cm) between your Xenia colony and nearby corals.


  • Peaceful: Yes
  • Toxicity: No
  • Invasive: Yes

Feeding Pulsing Xenia

Just like other photosynthetic cnidarian corals, Pulsing Xenia obtains the majority of its nutritional requirements through photosynthesis facilitated by the symbiotic alga living in its tissue.

Apart from this mode of feeding, these corals are also suspension feeders. They trap planktonic matter using their fleshy, feathery polyps and absorb nutrients from the aquarium water directly through their skin.

Interesting fact: Pulsing Xenia does not have a digestive tract in their stalk. Even though their motion may seem like they are feeding this way, they are not.

Do I need to feed pulsing Xenia?

In my opinion, the answer depends on your water quality.

So, if you have enough nutrients in the water, you may be totally fine. As a matter of fact, there are many aquarists who do not feed Pulsing Xenia.

In all other cases, it would be better to give them micro-plankton (bioplankton) from time to time. After all, in the wild, Xenia species have even been found to thrive in polluted waters.

Note: According to the experiment, glucose enrichment maintained the soft coral growth rate by 62% (low), 45% (medium), and 13% (high) compared to the controls. It also indicated that additional energy sources up to a certain threshold may increase the resistance of the corals.


  • Photosynthetic: Yes
  • Diet Type: Micro-plankton
  • Feeding Frequency: 1 – 2 times a week

Tank Requirements and Water Parameters

Tank size:

Because of its size and growth rate, Pulsing Xenia should be housed in a saltwater tank of at least 10 gallons (~40 L).

However, Pulsing Xenia may be kept even in smaller nano tanks— provided that the coral is placed appropriately and fragged/harvested when due.

Water type, Temperature, Hardness, and pH:

Temperature: The optimum water temperature for this coral species is between the range of 72 – 78 °F (22 – 26 °C).

pH: Keep the pH level within the recommended values 8.1 – 8.4.

Hardness: The water hardness should be between the values 8 – 12 dKH to ensure healthy growth and longevity of the coral.

Specific Gravity: Maintain a specific gravity of 1.023 – 1.025 in the reef tank.

API REEF MASTER TEST KIT – link to check the price on Amazon


Pulsing Xenia requires moderate to high illumination levels for optimal growth, nonetheless, the coral can thrive in low – moderate lighting.

Ensure to provide enough bright, indirect lighting to enable Pulsing Xenia carry out photosynthesis with the aid of the symbiotic alga (zooxanthellae) living in its tissue.

 The common lighting sources for reef tanks housing this species are full-spectrum LED lighting, VHO, metal halides, and T5 bulbs, in this case, LED lighting seems to be the most suitable option.

Water Flow:

Pulsing Xenia is a very hardy coral, it can thrive in any water flow. However, keep in mind that water flow directly affects its pulsation.

Note that too much water movement in the reef tank will result in a less pulsing motion. High water flow will bend the tenticles of Pulsing Xenia reducing or even preventing it from any movement.

Therefore, if you to see this mesmerizing effect, it is strongly recommended to keep Pulsing Xenia in low flow areas.

Placement of Pulsing Xenia in the Tank

DO NOT put Pulsing Xenia on the main rock with other corals. It will be the worst idea.

You have to put them on separate island rocks with sand between them. Thus it will help to keep them from spreading too much.

Pulsing Xenia coral enjoys placement on rocks preferably in the low or mid-sections of the reef aquarium; where it can receive bright lighting and gentle water flow to be able to grow healthily and maintain the pulsing action of its multiple polyps.

 Also, the Pulsing Xenia can serve as a nutrient export, so it may be placed in the refugium to scrub excess dissolved nutrients from the tank water.

Note: You can put aggressive corals (like Frogspawn, Torch corals, etc.) along the perimeter of the Pulsing Xenia. They will sting it away and prevent any expansion.

Care and Maintenance of Pulsing Xenia

Pulsing Xenia is a peaceful and hardy soft coral species for mature reef aquaria. However, the main concern is the way it grows and reproduces rapidly, hence the need for adequate care to prevent it from spreading all over the aquarium in the long run.

Also, I strongly warn against keeping this species with other rapidly growing soft corals like the Kenyan trees and Green star polyps in order to avoid an overpopulation situation.

Note: GSP will take over Xenia species.  

Always monitor the coral’s growth and prune as the population increases to keep it under control; unless you want the whole of your reef tank covered with Pulsing Xenia polyps.

Note: Trimming Xenia is a pain in the back!

First of all, it is not possible to grab Xenia with the fingers, it is just too sleeky. You will have to use tweezers or something similar for that. Grab it right down by the base and twist it to peel it off the rock.

Second, it takes a lot of time. In addition, if you have any bits of tissue left over on the rock they’re going to regrow.

Third, be careful! Turn off all the flow during trimming, do not let any bits free float. That is how its invasions start in the tank.

Moreover, you can also control the coral’s growth rate significantly by decreasing the amount of nutrients in the tank water, less nutrients will help limit its growth rate. Xenia corals are sensitive to pristine water, they prefer nutrients in the water. Therefore, do not add a lot of activated carbon to their aquarium system.

So, regular partial water changes help to replace depleted trace elements in the tank water that are vital to the coral’s continued good health and development.

Also, test the tank water weekly with an accurate aquarium test and make sure to maintain the water parameters at their appropriate values/levels.

Lastly, maintain adequate spacing between your Pulsing Xenia and other neighboring corals.

Fragging and Propagation of Pulsing Xenia

Pulsing Xenia has 3 ways of reproduction:

  • sexual reproduction,
  • asexual reproduction,
  • manual fragging.

Sexual reproduction. Pulsing Xenia reproduces by means of sexual reproduction, i.e. the release and fertilization of gametes in the water, and this often results in the formation of planula larvae which later develops into polyps.

Asexual reproduction. Also, a parent coral may reproduce asexually by budding off smaller polyps to form new colonies in the reef tank. It often happens when there is no place on the rock to grow anymore.

Note: Instead of fragging, you can also use this type of reproduction to your advantage. What you need to do is to and put another rock next to it. Eventually, Pulsing Xenia will grow onto the that rock, then you can remove it and repeat this cycle.

Important: Generally, Pulsing Xenia does not break off and attach to other rocks if there is space for it to grow. That is why you have to trim it often!

Fragging. A good way to propagate this coral is through manual fragging. Here, a healthy mature colony is split with a sharp blade or scalpel. To do this you need to:

  1. Locate a stalk (s) and cut it meticulously below the stalk and as close to the live rock as possible.
  2. Cut it off the main body.
  3. Do not glue the freshly cut pieces right after that. Pulsing Xenia is a soft coral, it is like a jelly. Therefore, it can be a problem to attach to anything.
  4. Put it into a very low flow or no flow area in the tank. So, it will not be blown away. Leave it there for 2-3 days. In most cases, it will attach to something by that time. After that, you can glue it to a frag plug and then placed it back into the reef tank.

Option: You can gently rubber band them to the frag plug, just enough to hold them down.

Things that you might need depending on your method:

Coral Fragging Kit tools. Profile - Vermetid snails. How to remove them


 Coral Propagation Fragging Kit Set (link to Amazon)

Common Problems Associated with Pulsing Xenia

Grows like a weed: Once you have Xenia species growing, it spreads like fire. Eventually, a lot of aquarists have problems with that because it is extremely hard to get rid of it!

Melts away: For some reason, the Xenia species does not grow well in some tanks and it never really makes sense why.

Nonetheless, if I make a priority list, I’d say that it is mostly from a lack of nutrients. Pulsing Xenia likes dirty water (nitrates), not to be confused with filthy water. Also, it also does not do well under low pH, especially when it comes from a tank with higher pH.

Smell: After trimming, do not leave any pieces of Xenia species in the garbage can. It stinks so much that it can make you puke.

Does not pulse: This is yet another problem that might have lots of reasons like too strong water flow, inappropriate water parameters water, stress after fragging, etc. For example, according to the study, soft corals decreased their pulsation by around 30% at 32°C (89°F) compared to 26 °C (79°F).

Buying Pulsing Xenia

This coral is hardy, attractive, and entertaining, and it doesn’t cost much to own one.

 Usually, the selling price of a coral frag of an aquacultured specimen is between $10– $30 whereas a sizeable colony costs around $50 – $100.

In Conclusion

Pulsing Xenia makes an interesting addition to established reef tanks.

The species comes available in a variety of impressive colors like pink, tan, grey, cream, and white, and the pulsing motion made by the numerous fleshy polyps will definitely appeal to viewers.

Pulsing Xenia will bring out the best in your reef tank when paired with zoas, however, you need to keep an eye out for excessive growth; making sure to reduce its population when necessary. Rather than having surplus of this coral in your tank, gift some to other nearby reef hobbyists or put them up for sale.

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