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Dendronephthya klunzingeri (Family Nephtheidae)

Cauliflower Coral or Glomerate Tree Coral


Cauliflower Coral has a tropical Australian distribution. It ranges across tropical northern Australia, including north-west WA, NT and the Qld coast to Fraser Island (WA, NT, QLD).


Cauliflower Coral is a soft coral that are plant-like and form large colonies. The sparsely branched, equal-length stalks diverge from one another, ending in bundles of polyps crowded together into bunches, hence the common name Cauliflower Coral. When fully expanded at night, this soft coral may reach a height of over one metre. When contracted, the polyps appear as clusters, with protruding calcareous spicules. These calcium carbonate spicules form an internal skeleton within the polyp tissues. Dendronephthya klunzingeri does not have as many spicules as some other octocorals, so it is soft and pliable in the water currents. This is to increase its ability to capture food by suspension feeding. It is a herbivore eating only phytoplankton strained from the surrounding water. Cauliflower Coral is considered by professional aquarists to be reasonably difficult to keep in an aquarium, as its natural food is difficult to provide. Most soft corals have a complicated system of food sharing where food and nutrients can be shared throughout the colony because the guts of all the polyps are connected.

Dendronephthya is an octocoral, having eight tentacles for each polyp. These tentacles are branched in a feather-like shape called pinnate. Like feathers the branches occur on opposite sides of the main trunk branch.

Cauliflower Coral is brightly coloured, often being bright red, orange or yellow.

Ecology/Way of Life:

On some shores, Cauliflower Coral may be exposed at low tide. In this situation, the fronds sag down looking quite floppy. This may occur in areas where the water is turbid with mud. Glomerate means compactly clustered.

Interaction with Humans/Threats:

Cauliflower Coral appears to be quite common across its tropical Australian range. Except for threats to the Great Barrier Reef, this species appears to be secure from human interaction.

Other Comments:

Dendronephthya klunzingeri, Studer. Dendronephthya comes from the Greek word dendris, meaning tree-like, and nephthya comes from the Greek word nephos, meaning a cloud.

Further Reading:

Davey, K. (1998) A Photographic Guide to Seashore Life of Australia. p.36, New Holland Press, Sydney.


Text, map & photograph by Keith Davey.

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