Beginner Corals: Pulsing Xenia

Beginner Corals: Pulsing Xenia

Beginners in this hobby are often looking for a great coral to start with. They want something easy to care for, that will grow quickly and be beautiful. You can’t ask for a coral that hits all those notes better than the pulsing xenia. You may wonder why some people will swear to never put xenia in their displays ever again, and we will touch on that in a bit.

In the wild, the Xeniias spread across a large area from the east coast of Africa all the way to the Central Pacific. Usually found in turbulent, clean, shallow water, it often does well in most aquariums and in most situations. There are many species of Xenia in the wild and a good portion of them can actually be found in the hobby. Most of which tend to be found on live rock as a hitch hiker with a select few being the most common in the actual trade for sale. Xenia Umbellata (pom-pom xenia), Xenia Elongata, Efflatounaria, Sansibia, Cespitularia, Anthelia and Sympodium to name a few. While there are something like 60 species in this genus, we will mostly look at the genus as a whole.
xenia d.jpg

For the most part, you’ll find mainly the Umbellata and Elongata species of Xenia in the stores for sale. It’s hardy and grows quickly, to the point of being invasive in some tanks. I have personally seen this coral grow over slower growing SPS corals like montipora effectively killing it as it does. This is a coral that can be shorn completely off a rock and still grow back. Some people report difficulty with keeping xenia in their tank, when asked, they report running a very low nutrient system (meaning very low levels of phosphates and zero nitrates) though that is certainly not the only reason xenia would do poorly, so if you lose your xenia suddenly you shouldn’t automatically assume that you don’t have enough nutrients in the system. There have also been reports of people losing their entire colony of xenia in mass only for it to start growing, again, in new areas around the tank. The reason for this is not completely known but speculated as a way to reproduce and expand to a wider area.

Placement of xenia is a matter of personal preference. If you love the look of it and want it to spread to large portions of your display, then place it low on the rock structure and watch it go. Now, if you would prefer it stay contained, then I would recommend you place it on a rock island by itself. You’ll have to make sure the xenia can’t reach any nearby rocks since if it can touch it, it can spread to it. Xenia can be kept in low to medium light and a wide variety of flow types, from almost none to medium-high flow. In my experience, flow has a lot to do with how your xenia looks. Higher flow is going cause your xenia to stretch out a bit more and not pulse as much. Lower flow will have it pack a little closer together and pulse more. That’s just my experience and I have pictures to show what I mean. Note that these xenia came from the same colony and the same tank. I took the ones in the first picture from the group in the second picture about 6 months ago.

Photos by: melypr1985
With medium to high flow:
xenia b.jpg

With Low to almost no flow:
xenia c.jpg

Fragging xenia is very simple. Get a sharp blade, grab ahold of a stalk and drag the blade in one clean cut through the bottom of the stalk near the rock. The flesh left behind will grow into more xenia stalks. The freshly cut pieces should be loosely rubber banded to a rock or frag plug and it will attach itself over the course of a week or two. Trying to glue a soft coral like this often doesn’t go well since the coral will slime up where the cut happened or the glue was applied and just slip off the mound of glue and attach elsewhere in the tank. If you are wanting to ship these frags, I’ve had the best luck when they are not exposed to air before being put in a bag. I bag them without air at all, like you might with a sponge. Moving them from one tank to another doesn’t seem to cause any issues and I believe that is because of the volume of water in the tank vs the small volume of water in a shipping bag. I first learned of this method when speaking to Mike Peletta about it a year ago, and it hasn’t failed me yet when having xenia shipped to the store from wholesalers.

Photo by: melypr1985 Yup, that's xenia attached to a snail. It's xenia snail!
xenia a.jpg

The ability of Xenia to uptake nutrients and look beautiful at the same time has prompted a few people to use it in a refugium. A low-flow refugium can have a small bit of live rock with a frag of xenia attached and in short order, the whole refugium will be covered in pulsing, swaying xenia. It’s actually a very elegant way to keep xenia, lower nutrients and have something different that others just don’t have. It’s also easy enough to “prune” or frag it out by scraping it off the glass and running clean cuts to separate the pieces into frags that can be sold or traded into your LFS for store credit. That’s a refugium that can pay you back. Here is a short video by a Troy V of his xenia refugium.

All in all, Xenia is a great starter coral, but should be added to your tank with caution. It’s ability to spread quickly can be a draw or allow it to smother out other, slower growing corals. If placed carefully, it’s possible to have xenia in your display without worrying that it will take over the whole tank. It has the ability to uptake nutrients well enough to be kept in a refugium and be productive. It’s a good choice for several reasons, but you’ll find many seasoned reefers who will never keep it in their display ever again and for good reasons of their own.
xenia e.jpg

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About author
Meredith Presley started keeping marine aquariums in 2007. She’s done everything wrong that can be done in the hobby (mostly but not all in that first year) and that has afforded her to learn a lot of hard lessons. Recently she’s been focused on marine disease diagnosis and treatment and hopes to focus on breeding soon as well. She also keeps a blog with basic info on saltwater keeping and her experiences with her own tank and livestock.

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