Carnation Coral

Cauliflower Coral, Strawberry Coral, Carnation Tree Coral
Colored Cauliflower Coral, Tree Coral, Strawberry Soft Coral

Carnation Coral Dendronephthya sp. also known as Strawberry Coral, Carnation Tree Coral, Colored Cauliflower Coral, Tree Coral, and Strawberry Soft CoralDendronephthya Sp.Photo © Animal-World: Courtesy David Brough

   The Carnation Coral is very beautiful, but with specialized needs and liking a pristine home, it is also very tough to keep!

   The Carnation Coral Dendronephthya sp. is one of the most exotic looking soft corals of the tropical reefs. It also occurs in more colors and color combinations than just about all other soft coral found in the aquarium reef industry. The colors are crazy bright reds, purples, pinks, greens, whites oranges and yellows and mixes of these as well. The stalks can also have combinations of colors, and to top it off, this beauty has also been known to change colors. Some common names these corals are collectively known for are Carnation Coral, Carnation Tree Coral, Colored Cauliflower Coral, Tree Coral, Ledge Coral, and the most brilliant red and/or pink specimen will be called Strawberry coral.

   The Dendronephthya genus is the easiest to identify in the Nephtheidae family due to their bright colors, but it has some other characteristics as well. It can be arboreal or grow in a fascicular fashion of bundles or clumps. Upright stalks have branches with bushy groupings of polyps at the ends and is an aposynbiotic Neptheid; ie. night feeding, filter feeder, and non-photosynthetic.

   The Carnation Coral is very difficult to care for and should be left to the experts. Although they are extremely attractive, Carnation Corals have a poor history of survival. They are easy to collect from the wild, but are very delicate and difficult to transport. Healthy specimens that survive shipping are then very demanding to maintain in captivity. Make sure the coral is connected to a rock or substrate, as it is very difficult to secure them otherwise. When they inflate at night they can easily double over, topple, and become damaged.

   Because Dendronephthya corals do not have any zooxanthellae they depend on copious amounts of zooplankton and phytoplankton to keep alive. The water quality from feeding these corals large amounts of food is easily compromised, and can itself then harm the coral. They also need the "perfect" water movement. In the wild Carnation Corals are not found in water that is less than 2" per second (5 cm per second), but also no faster than 10" per second (25 cm per second). (Dahan and Benayahu, 1997). Advanced/expert aquarists need to educated themselves thoroughly and have the proper set up for the well-being of this coral.

To learn about different types of soft corals, see:
Soft Coral Facts

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Scientific name   Family: Nephtheidae
   Species: Dendronephthya sp.

Distribution / Background    Soft Coral Information: The Dendronephthya genus was described by Kukenthal in 1905. There are about 250 species with a few being D. aurea, D. gigantea, D. hemprichii, D. klunzingeri, and D. rubeola. Some common names these corals are know for are Carnation Coral, Strawberry Coral, Carnation Tree Coral, Tree Coral, Colored Cauliflower Coral, Ledge Coral, Cauliflower Coral, and Strawberry Soft Coral. The Dendronephthya genus has not been propagated in captivity.

   Where Dendronephthya Corals Are Found: The Dendronephthya genus are found in the Indo-Pacific and the Red Sea.

   Dendronephthya Coral Habitat: The Dendronephthya genus grow in various parts of the reef. They are found upside down in caves and other sheltered areas of the reef, yet some species are also found in sunny areas. One variable that is constant is a strong surging and turbulent water flow that is supplying the coral with a good supply of plankton. This genus does not have any zooxanthellae, but tends to inflate at night to feed, and deflates a little during the day.

Status    The Dendronephthya genus does not have any species on the IUCN Red List for Endangered Species.

Description    What do Dendronephthya Corals look like: The Dendronephthya genus can be arboreal or grow in a fascicular fashion of bundles or clumps. They have upright stalks with branches that have bushy groupings of polyps at the ends. The polyps are autozooid, and they cannot retract. Autozooid polyps are polyps whose only function is to feed. They have an almost transparent coenenchyme, or tissue surface with visible and numerous sclerites. The sclerites can even extend past this tissue, especially when deflated, which may help with water exchange but is also for protection due to those needle like tips. Sclerites are tiny calcium bodies that help support the polyp or coral. Within their stalks and branches, there are "gastrovascular" canals that let them expel water and collapse. Some species can reach 6 feet (1.8 m) in height and 3.3 feet (1 m) in diameter.

   The Dendronephthya genus is the easiest to identify genus in the Nephtheidae family, due to their bright colors. The colors are crazy bright reds, purples, pinks, greens, whites oranges and yellows and mixes of these as well. Some combinations are white stalks with red and orange polyps, or white with yellow polyps, clear with white visible sclerites and pink polyps, yellow stalks with red polyps, white stalks with red polyps or all green, all yellow, all purple and more. Typical of the Nephtheidae family, they have also been known to change colors,

Difficulty of Care    Soft Coral Care: The Carnation Coral Dendronephthya sp. is very difficult to care for and should be left to the experts. Although they are extremely attractive, Carnation Corals have a poor history of survival. They are easy to collect from the wild, but are very delicate and difficult to transport. Healthy specimens that survive shipping are then very demanding to maintain in captivity. Make sure the coral is connected to a rock or substrate, as it is very difficult to secure them otherwise. When they inflate at night they can easily double over, topple, and become damaged. Do not expose to fresh water when topping of your tank as this adds further stress to the coral.

   Advanced/expert aquarists need to educated themselves thoroughly and have the proper set up for the well-being of this coral. Because Dendronephthya corals do not have any zooxanthellae they depend on copious amount of zooplankton and phytoplankton to keep alive. The water quality from feeding these corals large amounts of food is easily compromised, and can itself then harm the coral. They also need the "perfect" water movement. In the wild Carnation Corals are not found in water that is less than 2" per second (5 cm per second), but also no faster than 10" per second (25 cm per second). (Dahan and Benayahu, 1997).

   From the "Book of Coral Propagation, Reef Gardening for Aquarists", here are some suggestions from author Anthony Calfo.. Suspend the coral upside down, since this is a natural position that will benefit them. They need very strong turbid water movement or their polyps will not expand, and they will eventually deflate and die. A continuous slow drip of zooplankton and phytoplankton is needed. Monitor and vary the species of zooplankton and phytoplankton foods to see which kind your coral prefers. Peter Wilkens also mentioned stirring detritus for supplemental feeding.

Foods / Feeding    Soft Coral Feeding: In the wild, Dendronephthya corals have developed several feeding strategies. They are aposynbiotic Neptheids; ie. night feeding, filter feeder, and non-photosynthetic. They capture microscopic food particles from the water column and can absorb dissolved organic matter. Because they do not have a symbiotic relationship with a marine algae known as zooxanthellae, they don't receive any of their nutrients from this.

   Without zooxanthellae, In captivity these corals are very dependent on outside food for survival. They need an almost constant feeding of zooplankton and phytoplankton. Blow food across the polyps twice daily. One food that was suggested was Combo-Vital by Marc Weiss Companies. With fish in the tank as well, the dissolved nutrients they produce will help. Experiment with different "green waters" to see which phytoplankton species they prefer. Remember, your tank's water quality will be compromised with this amount of food, which increases the difficulty of care.

Aquarium Care    Stable tank conditions are needed to keep the Dendronephthya genus. Water changes may have to be as much as 10% weekly due to the immense amount of food that has to be made available. Test your water quality often. Soft corals still need to have proper chemical levels for proper growth. This family of corals does well with trace elements, especially Iodine and Strontium.

   Suggested levels for Dendronephthya species are:

  • Calcium:  400 - 450 ppm
  • Alkalinity:  3.2 - 4.8 MEQ/L (8 to 11 dKh - 10 is recommended)
  • Phosphates:  0, zero.
  • Magnesium:  1200 - 1350 ppm. (Magnesium makes calcium available, so if your calcium is low, check your magnesium levels before adding any more calcium.)
  • Strontium:  8 - 10

Aquarium Parameters

Quick Reference Chart
Lighting: Prefers Low Lighting Levels Prefers Medium Lighting Levels Prefers High Lighting Levels
Water Flow: Prefers Low Water Flow Levels Prefers Medium Water Flow Levels Prefers High Water Flow Levels
Temperament: Peaceful Temperament Semi-Aggressive Temperament Aggressive Temperament

   A live rock/reef environment is what is needed for your Carnation Coral, along with some fish for organic matter production. Have an extremely efficient filtration system to keep water quality high. A species specific tank is highly recommended.

   Provide proper lighting and water movement. They also need the "perfect" water movement. In the wild Carnation Corals are not found in water that is less than 2" per second (5 cm per second), but also no faster than 10" per second (25 cm per second). (Dahan and Benayahu, 1997). Lighting can range from none to a low level.

  • Minimum Tank Size / Length: 100 gallon (380 L) or larger
  • Marine Lighting: None to low
  • Temperature: 68° - 85° F (20° - 29° C)
  • Salinity / Specific Gravity: 1.023 - 1.025
  • Water Movement: Moderate to high
  • Water Region: Any area of the aquarium, under a ledge

Compatibility and Social Behaviors    The Carnation Coral does give off chemical toxins to ward off encroaching corals, yet can be susceptible to the chemical toxins of other corals as well. The Dendronephthya genus needs such a strong water flow that it is hard to keep other corals in the same tank with them. They really need a species specific tank.

Sex - Sexual differences    No sexual difference in appearance is known, colonies are either male or female.

Breeding and Reproduction   The Dendronephthya genus will reproduce by budding, fission, and dropping little branches. They also will send out little colonies via little "roots" that can have 200 young Dendronephthya with 4-12 polyps on each. Some species release sperm and eggs all year.

  If your Carnation Coral is living and doing well for 6 months, you may try to propagate it, but do so very carefully. They can be propagated similar to Capnella. Constriction is best, slowly tightening a branchlet until it severs itself.
Those without the luxury of time can cut the coral at the "V" where the secondary branchlets start. The 2 following methods may be applied to help the frag attach to the desired spot:

  1. The most successful way is to use a plastic toothpick, cocktail pick, or similar item to impale the frag right through the center of the stalk, far enough up from the incision point to make sure it doesn't tear through. Cocktail picks usually have a deco at the end, which can keep the coral from slipping off. Then, after positioning the coral frag 1/2 way through the impaling device, use super glue or rubber bands on each side of the pick to fasten it to rock work. This holds the coral in place, thus giving it an opportunity to adhere naturally.

  2. Place each frag in a "tube" that is just a little shorter than their height, on top of rubble will help them naturally attach. Drill holes in the tube (usually a small piece of PVC) to make sure the water flow gets in, yet does not life the frag off of the rubble and float away. This is similar how they "settle" in nature on rubble in certain areas of the reef.

Potential Problems   The Dendronephthya genus is susceptible to stress from shipping. They tend to die of malnutrition or lack of water flow, also leading to hair algae which they cannot tolerate. This coral, in good conscience should not be purchased unless the advanced/expert aquarist is willing to meet it's demanding needs. In a main display, if they start to die, remove before they foul the water and affect other inhabitants.

   Carnation Corals do have some pests and predators in the wild. A snail called Primovula bellocquae will feed on the Carnation Coral. Hermit crabs can irritate the Carnation Coral when crawling on their tissue.

Availability    Soft Corals for Sale: The Carnation Coral Dendronephthya sp. can be found at pet shops and on line. Online they can run about $25.00 to $50.00 USD and up, depending on size and/or color.

References

Author: Carrie McBirney, Clarice Brough CRS
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