The hardy Leaf Coral is easy to care for and fast growing, and makes a great first coral for the beginner!

   The Leaf Coral Pavona decussata has an attractive ruffled or frilly appearance. It grows with flat, upright fronds, similar to those of the Cactus Coral P. cactus, but its fronds are much thicker and less convoluted. It can also form horizontal plates. The spiky looking surface is from being covered with spindly pointed tentacles. The colors can be green, creamy yellow, or brown. It is also known as Lettuce Coral, Frilly Coral, and Cactus Coral. Aquacultured specimens can be found with names like Green Decussata, Green Pavona Decussata, or sometimes just Pavona sp.

   The Pavona genus are hardy small polyps stony (SPS) corals, and make excellent starter corals. They appreciate high light and a strong turbulent current, but tend to be tolerant of most adequate aquarium reef habitats. They can still thrive under less intense lighting. They are fairly disease resistant due to deeply embedded corallites that help protect their polyps from many environmental stresses and pathogens. From its family, Agariciidae, only the Pavona genus and Pachyseris genus are currently offered regularly to aquarists.

   Unique to the Pavona genus are a couple of interesting attributes. They contain some of the most autotrophic species known to science. Autotrophic is the ability to take simple inorganic substances (ie. carbon dioxide) and turn them into nutritional organic substances that they can then use for food. In environments with less light they will absorb more nutrients, yet under bright light they do well without direct feedings. Povona corals can also form buds on their surface that look like little prickly balloons. These uncalcified tissue growths are decorative, but their purpose is unknown. They are not a form of asexual reproduction.

A number of Pavona species are being reproduced in captivity. They have proven hardy and easy to propagate. They respond well to fragmentation, having a very low mortality rate and the mother colony regrows quickly.

Scientific name

   Family: Agariciidae
   Species: Pavona decussata

Distribution / Background

   Pavona Coral Information: The Leaf Coral Pavona decussata was described by Dana in 1846. Pavona, as a genus, was described by Lamarck in 1801. There are over 50 species of Pavona. Some of the common names they are known for are Lettuce Coral, Potato Chip Coral, Cactus Coral, Leaf Coral, Star Coral, Frilly Coral, and Pavona Coral. They have been successfully propagated in captivity. Currently the Pavona genus and Pachyseris genus are the only 2 genera regularly offered to aquarists from this family, Agariciidae.

   Where Pavona Corals Are Found: The Pavona decussata are found from the Red Sea east to Samoa. Around Australia they are found in the Great Barrier Reef, Coral Sea and Elizabeth and Middleton Reefs in the east, south to the Houtman Abrolhos Islands on the west coasts.

   Pavona, as a genus, are found from the east coast of Africa, up to the Mediterranean and Red Sea; then east, encompassing the west, north and east coasts of Australia and all tropical waters north of Australia to Japan. Continuing east from Australia, they are found all the way up toward the top part of the west coast of South America, all of Mexico’s west coast, then ending with the warmer waters of Baja California.

   Pavona Coral Habitat: The Pavona genus primarily inhabit shallow waters, although they can be found in depths greater than 80 feet (25 m). They use photosynthesis for survival and autotrophic means when there is less light. P. decussata are found over a wide range of shallow water environments.


   The Pavona decussata is not on the IUCN Red List for Endangered Species.


   What do Pavona Corals look like: The Pavona genus are described as leafy and non-leafy grouping formations. These species have various shapes that can at times be affected by water flow and light. They can often be confused with each other in the wild. The leafy Pavona are also similar in appearance to the Leptoseris genus, but are distinguished from them by having corallites on both sides of their upward projecting fronds or ‘leaves’, while the Leptoseris species only have corallites on one side.

   Description of the Leaf Coral and some additional familiar Pavona Spp.:

  • Leaf Coral P. decussata has flat, upright fronds that are much thicker and less convoluted than P. cactus. They are often what is usually sold under just Pavona sp.. The colors can be green, creamy yellow, or brown.
  • Maldive Coral P. maldivensis has a column growth form that looks like stubby fingers, yet it can also form thin horizontal plates. This coral can be bright orange, green, pale grayish brown or dark grayish brown.
  • Cactus Coral or Lettuce Coral P. cactus has thin convoluted fronds that are flat and look like the tops of Romaine lettuce heads, thus the name lettuce coral. This species comes in brown, brownish-green, or green. They do not do as well with strong water movement, but do appreciate moderately a turbid water movement for their thin structure.
  • Star Column Coral P. clavus is known as the star column coral due to the almost perfect star shape pattern in the skeletal structure. The structure is usually columnar or laminar or a combination of the two. The colors can be cream, brown or pale gray, and they are monochromatic.

Difficulty of Care

   Pavona Coral Care: The P. decussata is a very easy coral to care for, and is usually a first small polyp stony (SPS) coral for beginner aquarists. They tend to be tolerant of most adequate aquarium reef habitats, thriving under less intense lighting and are fairly disease resistant.

Foods / Feeding

   Pavona 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, like other SPS, the Pavona corals use their zooxanthellae for nutrition and it is also an autotrophic species. Autotrophic is the ability to take simple inorganic substances (ie. carbon dioxide) and turn them into nutritional organic substances that they can then use for food. Pavona species make up for environments with less light by absorbing more nutrients, yet under bright light, they do well without direct feedings. If moderate lighting is used, then microplankton can be fed in the evening or when their tentacles are extended. Feed as needed.

Aquarium Care

   Pristine tank conditions are typically needed to keep all SPS corals. Keep the nitrate levels low, and maintaining calcium and alkalinity levels. Typically you can do water changes of 20% to 30% a month, 15% every 2 weeks, or 5% a week for SPS corals. The 5% a week also seems to really make a big difference in other SPS corals health.

   The following water supplements are suggested for Pavona species:

  • Calcium:  385 to 425 ppm. If a small poly stony (SPS) coral does not have enough calcium, it will not grow.
  • Alkalinity:  3.2 TO 4.8 MEQ/L (8 to 12 dKh)
  • 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:  Strontium (10 for most SPS Corals), and trace Elements are also suggested.

Aquarium Parameters

   A well-feed live rock/reef environment is what is needed for your Leaf Coral, along with some fish for organic matter production. These corals are usually hardy and fast-growing, however 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

   When positioning your Pavona, keep in mind that lighting rather than food is more important to them. Surging water movement is also needed for a healthy Pavona. Make sure that no other corals can come in contact with your specimen. Pavona spp. are very aggressive and can extend sweeper polyps, stinging other corals.

  • Minimum Tank Size / Length: 50 to 100 gallons (190 – 380 L) or larger
  • Marine Lighting: Moderate to high
  • Temperature: 74° – 83° F (23° – 28° C)
  • Salinity / Specific Gravity: 1.023 – 1.025
  • Water Movement: Strong, intermediate current
  • Water Region: Bottom of the aquarium

Compatibility and Social Behaviors

   The Pavona genus are very aggressive and can extend sweeper tentacles which will sting any other coral it touches. The Leaf CoralP. decussata has been known to extend its sweeper tentacles up to 6″ (2.36 cm). Care needs to be taken when placing them in the tank, even with other Pavona. This genus will basically win any fight with other corals, so keep them well away from other corals in the tank. They are fine with fish that are considered reef safe.

Sex – Sexual differences

   No sexual difference in appearance is known.

Breeding and Reproduction

   The small polyp stony (SPS) corals are male and female and can reproduce both sexually and asexually. In the wild they reproduce sexually by releasing eggs and sperm at the same time, resulting in a fertilized egg which then forms into a free-swimming planula larva. Eventually the planula larvae settles onto the substrate, becoming plankters. This then forms a tiny polyp which begins to excrete calcium carbonate and develops into a coral. Planula larvae are extremely vulnerable to predation, and very few survive. The Pavona genus reproduce asexually as well. In the wild Pavonas spread from breakage due to storms and fragmentation. They have also been known to use asexual fragmentation with the help of a boring sponge (Cliona sp.).

   Propagation is very easy for Pavona corals. First you need to choose a healthy coral that is not showing any signs of distress. The best choice for Pavona with dense structures is to use an electric saw. Those with thinner structures can be scored and broke with razors, knives, or bone cutters. Pavona heal very quickly and the mother colony regrows quickly. Allow the frags to heal before moving them to a new tank. Give the frags ample water flow.

Potential Problems

   The Pavona spp. are hardy and generally disease resistant. They have deeply embedded corallites that help protect their polyps from many environmental stresses and pathogens. If you have problems with cyanobacteria or algae, keeping moderate to strong water movement will prevent them from attaching to your Pavona.


   Pavona Corals for Sale: The Leaf Coral P. decussata is moderately hard to find at pet shops, but can be found online at times. They are sometimes sold just as “Pavona sp.” Online they can run about $29.00 USD or more depending on size and/or color. Some other species of Pavona start at about $39.00 USD.