The Pocillopora genus are found over a very wide range and in many diverse habitats. They are second only to the Acropora family as significant reef-building corals. They have a number of growth forms, even in the same habitat. Two different species can look very similar in deeper waters, yet those same two can be very different in formation in shallow locations. The Cauliflower Coral Pocillopora damicornis gets around, it can be found in all the locations where the other species are found.

   The Cauliflower Coral P. damicornis is the species from this group that is most commonly available to aquarists. They are propagated in captivity and come in a variety of shapes and colors. Its common names are derived from the tight clusters of branches topped with fuzzy polyps. Besides Cauliflower Coral, other common names include Raspberry Coral, Birdsnest Coral, and Lace Coral. This coral will conform to the water movement in your tank, taking on a thicker, tighter branch formation in more turbulent water or a thinner and more spaced formation with lower flow.

   The Pocillopora genus is one of the better known, and well studied groups of corals. They are referred to as the experimental ‘guinea pig’ of the coral world. As a matter of fact, studies done on the Cauliflower Coral P. damicornis in 1928 during an expedition to the Great Barrier Reef, are where most of the early discoveries of the growth and reproduction of corals were made. Quite an important contributor to the advancement of knowledge about our oceans and their inhabitants.

   The Cauliflower Coral Pocillopora damicornis is moderate to care for, since it can be sensitive when it comes to temperature changes, inefficient water flow, and stress from moving or shipping. This is somewhat surprising since they inhabit all types of environments in the wild, even areas of ‘dirty’ water. In captivity they do best in bright lighting, but they can adapt to moderate lighting. Moving them around the tank can cause stress, so if movement is needed, do it slowly. Once they become established they do become quite hardy.

Scientific name

   Family: Pocilliporidae
   Species: Pocillopora damicornis

Distribution / Background

   Pocillopora Coral Information: The Pocillopora genus was described by Lamark in 1816. There are 35 nominal species. Of those, seven to ten are true species with five of them being from Australia. Some common names these corals are know for are Birdnest Coral, Lace Coral, Cauliflower Coral, Bird’s Nest Coral, Brush Coral, Cluster Coral, Antler Coral, Pink Cauliflower Coral, and Finger Coral. These corals have been heavily propagated in captivity.

  The Cauliflower Coral Pocillopora damicornis was described by Linnaeus in 1758. Other common names they are known for are Lace Coral, Birdsnest Coral, and Raspberry Coral.

   Where Pocillopora Corals Are Found: The Pocillopora genus are distributed widely in the Red Sea, eastern Africa, Indian and Pacific Oceans. P. damicornis is found around Australia in the Great Barrier Reef, Coral Sea, Sydney, and Rottnest Island.

   Pocillopora Coral Habitat:The Pocillopora genus are primarily found in shallow waters, such as mangrove swamps and wharf piles, that are exposed to reef fronts having strong water flow.


   The Pocillopora damicornis is not on the IUCN Red List for Endangered Species.


   What do Pocillopora Corals look like: The Pocillopora genus have small warts or bumps called verrucae on their structures. This coral has a branching cluster shape, and the branches can be tightly compact in upper reef slopes, yet more spaced in calmer waters.

   Like other SPS corals, the shape of the P. damicornis is greatly affected by water conditions and locations. Two different species can look very similar in deeper waters, yet those same two can have a very different formation in shallow locations. Also, water temperature plays a big part on how fast they grow. They reproduce both sexually and asexually, commonly through fragmentation. They have rather short 1″ (2.5 cm) sweeper tentacles, that can affect nearby submissive corals. In the wild, Pocillopora corals rarely live longer than 7 to 8 years.

   The polyps of the Pocillopora genus are immersed within the skeletal structure and can retract completely and instantly if there is any external stimulus. Polyps are small and fuzzy and are very striking with a two-tone color. The P. damicornis can be brown, green, pink, purple, cream, and a combination of green and yellow, brown and pink. Other combinations have been aquacultured. Aquacultured specimens will have names related to color like Green Pocillopora Damicornis, Pink and Green Pocillopora, Pink Peony Pocillopora Coral, and Cadmium Pocillopora Coral.

Difficulty of Care

   Pocillopora Coral Care: The S. damicornis is moderate to care for, since it can be sensitive when it comes to temperature changes, inefficient water flow, (only strong water flow will ensure their survival) and stress from moving or shipping. Once they become established they do become quite hardy.

Foods / Feeding

   Pocillopora Coral Feeding: In the wild, small polyp stony (SPS) corals have developed several feeding strategies. Through a symbiotic relationship with a marine algae, known as zooxanthellae, they receive the majority of their nutrients. They also capture planktonic organisms, food particles from the water column, and can absorb dissolved organic matter.

   In captivity, the Pocillopora genus does best in well-feed reef environment with plenty of dissolved solids. They can be fed zooplankton once a week. Smaller forms of prey are being developed such and invert larvae and new strains of rotifers, which would be a good food for them a well. Signs of lack of food would be no new growth, polyps extending and some tissue recession.

Aquarium Care

   Pristine tank conditions are typically needed to keep all SPS corals. Keep the nitrate levels low, maintaining calcium and alkalinity levels. Typically you can do water changes of 20% a month, 10% biweekly or 5% weekly. It has been noted that 5% weekly water changes replenish many of the needed additives. With higher concentrations of coral with calcareous skeletons, there may be a need put in additional additives to maintain proper levels for good growth.

   The following water supplements are suggested for Pocillopora species:

  • Calcium:  400 to 450 ppm. If a small poly stony (SPS) coral does not have enough calcium, it will not grow.
  • Alkalinity:  3.2 TO 4.5 MEQ/L (8 to 10 dKh, 10 is recommended)
  • Phosphates:  0, zero. Phosphates are the worst of all and all corals hate them.
  • Magnesium:  1350 – 1500. Magnesium makes calcium available, so if your calcium is low, check your magnesium levels before adding any more calcium.
  • Strontium:  10

Aquarium Parameters

   A well-feed live rock/reef environment is what is needed for your Cauliflower Coral, along with some fish for organic matter production. They need a strong water flow and dissolved nutrients. A mature tank is recommended.

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

   Although they do best in bright lighting, they can adapt to moderate lighting. Moving them around the tank can cause stress, so if movement is needed, do it slowly. Make sure that no other corals can come in contact with your Pocillopora. Pocillopora spp. are aggressive and have sweeper tentacles that will sting nearby corals.

  • Minimum Tank Size / Length: 10 gallons (38 L) or larger
  • Marine Lighting: Moderate to high
  • Temperature: 73° – 79° F (23° – 26° C). Temperatures of 79° F (26° C) and lower promote fast growth, yet temperatures of 81° – 82° F (27° – 28° C) slow their growth, which may be a desired response in cases of overcrowding.
  • Salinity / Specific Gravity: 1.023 – 1.025
  • Water Movement: Strong/turbulent
  • Water Region: Bottom of the aquarium

Compatibility and Social Behaviors

   Pocillopora are aggressive and have 1″ (2.5 cm) sweeper tentacles that will sting nearby corals. Also, due to their growth, they can quickly encroach on nearby corals, so be sure to give them plenty of space in their new home. Keep away from quick growing corals like Xenia, since they can easily over power and over grow the P. damicornis. Do not house Pocillopora with small polyp stony (SPS) coral eating fish, like angelfish.

Sex – Sexual differences


Breeding and Reproduction

   The small polyp stony (SPS) corals are male and female and can reproduce both sexually and asexually. Like other members of the Pocilliporidae family, P. damicornis fertilize internally. They may produce asexual and sexual larvae year round, each of which has 4 sets of male and female gonads. This larvae is able to drift for 14 to 100 days. During this time, they develop a polyp like structure so they can feed. When the polyp settles, it will start to form a skeletal base. If they are unhappy with their location, for about 3 days, they can return to the polyp structure and relocate. Pocilloporas can reproduce asexually as well, spreading from breakage due to storms and fragmentation. Asexual reproduction however, is not as successful as sexual reproduction in the wild.

   Propagation is rather simple for the P. damicornis. First you need to choose a healthy coral that is not showing any signs of distress. Then, simply cut a branch at least 2″ long and glue the frag to a plug or rock. You can use the 2-part epoxy or underwater putties. A little tip, don’t glue frags upright since they will grow faster on their sides.The slime that the coral will exude should not come in contact with any other corals and gloves are suggested. Give the frag ample water flow.

Potential Problems

   The Pocillopora spp. are generally disease resistant, but can still get the same illnesses that any other small polyp stony (SPS) coral can get under poor conditions. In general, if your S. damicornis has any kind of tissue recession, just cut off the healthy part. Just make sure you cut into some of the healthy part also, to be sure there is no disease encroaching on the healthy tissue. Also, keep out the cyanobacteria and algae with good water movement, and your Cauliflower Coral will stay happy.


   Pocillopora Corals for Sale: The Cauliflower Coral or Cat’s Paw Coral S. damicornis is very easy to find at pet shops and on line. Online they can run about $19.00 USD or more depending on size and/or color.


Featured Image Credit: Pocillopora damicornis Landaagiraavaru by Ahmen Abdul Rahman, Wikimedia Commons CC SA 4.0 International