- Staghorn Fern Plant Problems: How To Treat A Diseased Staghorn Fern
- Staghorn Fern Plant Problems
- Staghorn Fern Overview
- Types of Staghorn Fern
- Staghorn Fern Care
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Staghorn Ferns at a Glance1
- Selection, Care, and Culture
- Plants & Flowers
- Staghorn Fern Information And Care: How To Grow A Staghorn Fern
- Staghorn Fern Information
- How to Grow a Staghorn Fern
- Growing Staghorn Ferns from Pups
- Care of Staghorn Ferns
- General Platycerium Bifurcatum – Staghorn Fern Care
- Staghorn Fern Outdoor Care – Growing A Staghorn Fern In The Garden
- Staghorn Fern Outdoor Care
- Growing a Staghorn Fern in the Garden
- Staghorn Fern Cold Hardiness: How Cold Tolerant Are Staghorn Ferns
- Staghorn Ferns and Cold
- Cold Hardiness of a Staghorn Fern
- Caring for Your Staghorn Fern
Staghorn Fern Plant Problems: How To Treat A Diseased Staghorn Fern
Staghorn ferns are dramatic plants both in the exotic places from which they hail and in the home environment. Although they can be a little tricky to get just so, once a staghorn is established, you can expect few problems with them. Once in a while, however, your staghorn may get sick and that’s why we put this article together. Read on to learn more about diseases of staghorn ferns.
Staghorn Fern Plant Problems
Staghorn ferns can be interesting and exotic additions to your home or landscape. Their large, antler-like leaves are showy and dramatic, making them a favorite of fern enthusiasts. Like any plant, diseases of staghorn fern can develop, but they’re extremely few and far between. In fact, sick staghorn ferns are much more likely to be troubled by incorrect growing conditions than they are actual disease, so if your plant is looking unwell, take heart. It’s probably something completely fixable.
Most of staghorn fern problems are the direct result of care slip-ups, but there are a few problems that are common among these epiphytic wonders. When you’ve reviewed your care plan and are certain they’re getting enough light and nutrients, it’s definitely time to look for other staghorn fern disease symptoms. Don’t stress, we’ve made a list of likely pest and disease problems and how to treat a diseased staghorn below:
Rhizoctonia. When black spots appear on the basal fronds and begin to spread toward the growing point, it’s time to act fast. This is the calling card of Rhizoctonia, a fungal pest of staghorn fern. If left untreated, the black spores will continue their march and kill the entire plant. First, withhold water entirely and reduce the humidity around your plant. If that doesn’t make enough of a dent, try a general use fungicide. In the future, monitor the humidity and the plant’s watering, since excessive moisture is necessary for Rhizoctonia to survive.
Mealybugs and scale. Mealybugs and scale can appear to be diseases even though they’re actually pest infestations. These sap-sucking insects are master mimics, making themselves appear as white, fluffy tufts or waxy shields attached directly to the plant. Mealybugs are a little bit easier to recognize as insects, but they produce copious amounts of white fuzzy wax that can hide their numbers. Avoid using oils on staghorn ferns, but insecticidal soap can be used to destroy colonies. It may require more than one application, so monitor your plant closely during treatment.
An unusual tropical plant, the staghorn fern is grown often as a houseplant or hanging plant. These fascinating plants often have multiple kinds of leaves which serve different purposes, some of which are antler-like in shape. And the shape gives this unusual type of plant its name, as if there were many green pairs of horns draping elegantly from the roots.
But what are they, and are they easy to care for? Today we’ll go over all of the ins and outs of growing this magnificent centerpiece plant and reveal exactly how you can raise your own cluster of lush, green elkhorn fern leaves.
Staghorn Fern Overview
Quick care guide, illustrated by Seb Westcott.
|Common Name(s)||Staghorn fern, crown staghorn, elkhorn fern, disc stag’s horn fern, among many others.|
|Scientific Name||Platycerium coronarium, Platycerium alcicorne, Platycerium andinum, Platycerium bifurcatum, etc.|
|Origin||Australia, New Guinea, Africa, Madagascar, southern Asia, South America|
|Height||Varies with frond length, but can grow up to 3-4 feet in width over time|
|Light||Bright indirect light|
|Water||Water sparingly, increasing frequency during hot/dry periods|
|Temperature||Ideal range is 60-80 degrees. Does not tolerate frost conditions.|
|Humidity||Humidity-lover, as many come from tropical rainforests|
|Soil||Secure to board, or use peat or sphagnum moss, coconut coir, or an extremely well-draining potting soil|
|Fertilizer||Monthly applications of a diluted balanced fertilizer during spring and summer. Every other month through fall/winter. Can also fertilize with other methods, but plant produces much of its own nutrition.|
|Propagation||By spores, pups, or division|
|Pests||Aphids and scale insects, especially mealybugs. Also susceptible to rhizoctonia leaf spot.|
Types of Staghorn Fern
There are around 24 varieties referred to in texts on platyceriums. However, there’s some confusion as to exactly how many types there really are. Some varieties have been merged over the years and considered part of the same species, just different cultivars.
It’s generally assumed that, for most gardeners’ purposes, there’s actually around eighteen varieties grown commonly. Here’s a short list of some of the most popular varieties you’re likely to find.
This fern is unusual in that each plant has two different types of leaves. The uppermost leaves or “shields” will catch fallen leaves, insects, and other debris to utilize for nutrients while shielding the roots from excess water.
The lower leaves produce spores from which most types of staghorn ferns propagate. Some varieties also make pups or offshoots, and over time can grow to encircle whatever surface they’re growing on.
Platycerium coronarium, ‘Staghorn Fern’, ‘Crown Staghorn’, ‘Elkhorn Fern’, ‘Disc Stag’s Horn Fern’
Platycerium coronarium. Source: Ahmad Fuad Morad
This variety produces two types of leaves. The first is an upright, broad shield leaf, and the second is a long, dangling forked fertile leaf. These longer leaves carry the spores from which the plant propagates.
Platycerium coronarium originates from southeastern Asia, and is an epiphyte, commonly known as an air plant.
Platycerium alcicorne. Source: Ryan Somma
Two leaf types are also common for Platycerium alcicorne, one of which is a “shield”, and the other being a longer, slender frond with many finger-like tips. It’s believed that the shield leaf offers shelter to the root mass to prevent it from getting overly wet in rainforest conditions.
Originating in the tropical climates of Madagascar and eastern Africa, one popular variety is the subspecies platycerium alcicorne var. vassei. At one point, this was referred to botanically as platycerium vassei, but it has since been established to be part of the alcicorne species.
Platycerium andinum, ‘American Staghorn Fern’
Platycerium andinum. Source: FarOutFlora
The only platycerium that is native to the Americas, Platycerium andinum originates around the Andes mountains of South America.
Rather than having a domed shield-shaped leaf, this species has antler-like protrusions for both the spore leaves and the upper protective leaves. These spore-producing leaves tend to be narrower and longer than the upper leaves. It rarely reproduces from spores, producing pups which can grow to encircle the tree the plant is on.
Platycerium bifurcatum. Source: Starr Environmental
With heart-shaped sterile fronds that can reach 18″ in length, and forked, long, arched fertile fronds of up to 36″, this elkhorn fern is one of the most popularly grown. It can be grown outdoors in sheltered locations, but is most commonly cultivated as an indoor houseplant.
Its origins are in southeastern Australia and New Guinea. Like most other elkhorn ferns, this species is epiphytic.
Platycerium hillii, ‘Stiff Staghorn’, ‘Green Staghorn’
Platycerium hillii. Source: AussieBotanist
Shield-leaves are rounded or kidney-shaped with shallow lobes. The stiff staghorn’s fertile leaves are narrower than the shields, but are still wider than other platycerium varieties with shallow lobes as well.
Sometimes referred to as the Australian clumping staghorn, it originates in Australia and New Guinea. It’s said to be related to Platycerium bifurcatum, but has a much shallower forking pattern and smaller shields.
Platycerium elephantotis, ‘Elephant Ear Staghorn Fern’
Platycerium elephantotis. Source: berniedup
Unlike the majority of the platyceriums I’ve described so far, this one definitely has earned its name of ‘elephant ear’, as the normal forking and antler-like shape is nowhere in evidence. Instead, this plant has wide, rounded fertile fronds and tall and arching sterile fronds.
Unlike most platyceriums, this plant prefers consistently-moist soil around its roots. In fact, some growers have reported that wooden posts that they’ve grown their elephant ears on have rotted out due to being constantly wet. They originate from Africa.
Platycerium superbum. Source: FarOutFlora
Another Australian native plant, the Platycerium superbum creates a large nest frond which catches insects or falling leaves to act as fertilizer. From the nest grow longer antler-like fronds which are broad and produce spores for propagation. It doesn’t produce pups, so the only way to propagate it is from spores.
These are quite popular and easy to find, and have dominated the market in some areas of the country as easy-growing epiphytes. However, they are often confused with Platycerium grande, discussed next.
Platycerium grande, ‘Regal Elkhorn Fern’, ‘Moosehorn Fern’
Platycerium grande. Source: robertlafond2009
At one point, Platycerium grande was considered to be a subspecies of Platycerium superbum. However, the grande originated in the Philippines, and its dangling fronds tend to be much narrower than the superbum’s.
When these plants have matured, they can easily create their own curtain of draping, slender fronds which can adorn a wall or freely flow from a hanging container. Their natural habitat is regularly being clear-cut at this point, which makes it difficult to find for sale.
Platycerium ridleyi, ‘Ridley’s Staghorn’
Platycerium ridleyi. Source: Tony Rodd
From the center of the large, textured shield leaves emerges a stalk filled with firm antler-shaped fronds. This is the platycerium ridleyi, a popular plant from Thailand.
This rainforest plant is considered mostly extinct at this point, but can still be found occasionally for sale to collectors directly from Thailand. Its natural habitats have long since lost their growth.
Part of the issue is that unlike most other staghorn ferns, these do not collect leaf litter in their shielding growth. That makes them reliant on ants or other insects for their nutrients. These can also be difficult to grow at home, but are still widely sought by collectors.
Platycerium stemaria, ‘Triangle Staghorn Fern’
Platycerium stemaria. Source: Futureman1
African in origin, this variety tends to fork its draping leaves like inverted Y’s, creating the visual appearance of long triangles. Its upper shield leaves are wavy at the tips and are tall and wide.
When sporing, the spore patches appear like a chevron-shape at the central V of the sporing leaves. This forms a darker patch that can be quite appealing to look at. Some cultivars are extremely dark green, but most are a mid-range green in hue.
Platycerium veitchii, ‘Silver Elkhorn’, ‘French Elkhorn Fern’
Platycerium veitchii var. lemoinei. Source: Ryan Somma
This final Australian species tends to be covered in downy white hairs, giving it a silvery appearance. The tops of its shield fronds grow upwards to form tall, slender fingers. Meanwhile, the fertile fronds tend to be more erect than other species, having an outward extending habit before they eventually droop towards the ground.
In the wild, silver elkhorn is a lithophile, meaning that it likes to grow on rocks in full sun conditions. If grown in shadier conditions, it loses some of its silvery appearance and its more pronounced outward growth.
One variety, Platycerium veitchii var. limoneii, is sometimes referred to as “green veitchii” because it tends not to have the silvery appearance of its relatives.
Staghorn Fern Care
Despite what you might think, they’re not difficult to care for as they’re mostly self-sustaining. However, they do need a few things for optimal growth. Read on to find out more.
With the exception of Platycerium veitchii, these ferns grow in the crooks of tree branches or on tree trunks. Most can tolerate full sun, but prefer bright indirect light, such as what they get in their tropical homes. Indoors, they should be placed in the brightest location you have that doesn’t get direct sunlight.
Since they are tropical plants, they also prefer warmer climates. Platycerium bifurcatum and Platycerium veitchii can handle temperatures down to about 30° Fahrenheit. Comparatively, P. alcicorne and P. hillii want it to be above 40°, P. stemaria above 50°, and most other varieties above 60°.
These plants can tolerate hotter conditions, but tend to prefer the range between 60-80 degrees as an optimal zone. In California, Florida, and other locations which have tropical climates, these plants can survive outdoors for most to all year. However, in other areas, it may be necessary to overwinter your staghorn fern indoors.
Needless to say, the 60-80° zone makes the climate inside your home nearly perfect for growing these indoors!
This platycerium hillii has browning tips, a common sign of underwatering. Source: AussieBotanist
As an epiphitic plant, it has roots which grasp onto wooden surfaces to hold them in place. Water is absorbed directly through the leaves of the plant. While the roots need water as well, they do not need it as often.
Watering is one of the largest sources of difficulty for growers, as it largely depends on how you have the plant mounted and how much light and heat it’s receiving.
Most people will have their fern either mounted on a wooden board, or nested into a bed of moss. The moss tends to hold more water, and can make it easy to overwater. But it’s possible to underwater as well.
Generally, it’s a good idea to mist once a week during hot and dry weather, being sure to focus on the undersides of the fertile or spore-producing leaves and the top shield leaves. During cooler times, every two to three weeks is fine.
You will also occasionally want to dampen its growing medium so the roots get a little moisture. You just want it damp, not wet. If it’s mounted on a board, running water over the board and growing medium for a minute is usually enough. Potted or hanging basket ferns can just have a little moisture added to the growing medium, but be sure it drains well!
More humidity will generally mean less watering is necessary. Placing your plant in a bathroom or other humid location will help keep it happy without needing to water.
If the tips of your antler fronds begin to brown, your fern is underwatered, and you should increase the frequency of your watering. If the bases of the antler fronds begin to blacken, you’re overwatering, and need to cut back the frequency.
Platycerium grande is slightly more drought-hardy than most of the other species. It will show signs of overwatering by forming black blotches on its shield leaves. For these, decrease the watering and try to improve airflow around your plant.
Platycerium veitchii are lithophilic or epiphilic. They don’t need traditional soil. Source: johnjennings995
Epiphytes tend to live on wooden surfaces, so you will often find mounted staghorns with their roots wrapped in sheet moss or burlap. This provides a slightly-moist environment for the roots that mimics the leaf litter and moss that grows around them in the wild.
If you’d like to hang your plant away from a wall, you can grow it in a wire hanging basket with a coconut coir or sphagnum moss liner. Fill with an extremely well-draining potting soil (I recommend a blend of half cactus potting mix and half orchid bark), and use more moss or coir to help secure your plant in place.
Specimens grown in baskets like this will eventually form pups and develop growth to surround the basket.
It’s also common to use burlap sacks to grow ferns in, although you may need to add a mesh netting of a material that won’t decompose over time to keep the potting soil or moss inside the bag. These can be hung away from the wall as well, and will also grow to surround the bag.
Spring and summer are the times of year when your staghorn fern will be growing, and at these times, it’s good to fertilize.
Use a low-strength balanced liquid fertilizer, such as a quarter-strength diluted liquid kelp, and fertilize your plant about once a month during those times of year. You can also opt for a fern fertilizer or for an evenly-balanced liquid fertilizer, just diluted to a low level.
In the fall and winter months, your plant will go somewhat dormant. Reduce fertilizing to every other month during that time of year.
Once your fern has begun to get to the size you want, you can reduce fertilizing to slow its growth. Older specimens don’t need to be fertilized more than a couple times per year.
If your plant is positioned in a tree or somewhere where leaf litter, dust, and moss will build up around it, you may not need to fertilize at all, as it will take its nutrients directly from that. Similarly, some people like to put small bits of compost or plant matter underneath the shield leaves so the plant can feed on it, but do so sparingly.
You can plant in pots with a special high-draining potting soil. Source: douneika
These gorgeous ferns are most commonly propagated from its spores, by dividing it, or from offshoots called pups.
Propagating From Spores
To propagate from spores, you first must collect the spores. Look underneath the fertile, antler-like leaves for patches which have darkened and turned brown. You can cut a leaf with a spore patch off if it’s easier to work with.
Place a piece of paper underneath the leaf. Use a butterknife or other non-sharp tool to scrape the underside of the leaf to release the spores onto the paper.
Once you have your spores, you will need to prepare a container for them. There are multiple different ways to do this. You can use a sterilized seed starting tray with draining holes and a lid, or you can use a heavier plastic container with no drainage.
I recommend the process shown in the video below, as it creates a sterile environment to grow in. Just be sure that if you’re doing this process, your container is about the same size as the one shown in the video, and that it’s microwave-safe, or you may find you have a problem!
Propagation From Pups Or Division
Propagating from pups or by division requires you to examine your adult plant closely. Look for any young plants that are developing along the sides or places between individual plants. These are locations where you can make cuts to separate them.
Very large plants can also be cut in half and separated into two individual plants to reduce their size. However, it’s easier to simply separate all the offshoots.
The goal is to leave at least three inches of space around each plant’s base to ensure you have the whole rhizome and some base material. Use a clean saw and cut off the offshoots or mature plants, being sure to try to leave as much room left for mounting as possible.
Since it can be a bit difficult to describe how to separate the pups or large plants, this video will give you a really good idea of how the process works. It also shows you how to create a mounted staghorn fern!
Repotting In A Hanging Basket
While you can mount to a board (as shown in the latter part of the video above), you can also plant it in a wire basket.
Select a wire hanging basket which has a sturdy hanger and which looks like it will be capable of supporting the weight of a large plant. Keep in mind that staghorn ferns continue to grow and form pups, so you may need to divide off the pups regularly to keep the weight down!
Line the inside of the hanging basket with moistened sphagnum moss or peat moss. You can also use a coconut coir basket liner. Then pack the interior firmly with either an extremely well-draining potting mix or more peat or sphagnum to make a base for your fern to sit on.
Place the fern into the basket, being sure it’s where you want it to sit, and then secure wires to the sides of the basket, forming an X shape that surrounds the base of the fern so it is held in place. You may wish to run one wire across the top of the fern’s base, hiding it within the leaves.
Pack more moss around the basket to hide the support wires and hang it up.
Repotting In A Normal Pot
Burlap bags are a common hanging basket replacement for staghorn ferns. Source: Joe Shlabotnik
You can also plant in a normal pot, although you might need to put it on a stand as the plant grows and lengthens its fertile fronds.
Create a potting soil using a blend of half cactus potting blend (succulent potting mix will work too) and half orchid bark. Gently spread out the roots if they’re visible. Then, simply set on top of this blend, trying to ensure it’s well-balanced and that the roots have contact with the potting mix.
Be sure to leave a little space in the pot to allow for the plant to sit down inside for extra support.
Staghorn ferns don’t require much pruning, but when there is any to be done, only prune the fertile fronds.
If there are damaged fertile fronds, use a clean pair of scissors or pruners to neatly cut off the frond. If the whole frond is showing signs of damage, cut it at its base. Otherwise, simply trim it to remove the damaged portion.
The shield leaves should be left on the plant even if they are damaged. These decompose around the plant and help provide it with its required nutrition. Also, they help to protect the plant from damage, and provide extra support to keep it in place!
This young platycerium elephantotis is in its winter dormancy. Source: Omar Omar
Realistically, you shouldn’t have many growing problems provided that you don’t overwater or underwater. However, there are a couple pests to be aware of, and one common disease.
As with almost any plant that has fleshy, moisture-holding leaves, aphids can become a problem. Scale insects like mealybugs are also a hazard. These pests literally suck the sap out of your plants, leaving spotty damage behind.
Staghorn ferns produce spores on their lower leaves, so it’s important to not blast your plant with water to try to hose these pests off. Instead, opt for a gentle spraying of all plant surfaces with insecticidal soap, which will wipe them out.
Like roses and many other thick-leaved plants, it’s susceptible to a fungal issue called black leaf spot, also known as rhizoctonia. This fungus also produces spores that can rapidly spread around your garden if left unchecked.
It’s best to use a double-headed approach to combatting this issue. Trim out and destroy diseased portions of the leaves, and spray down the plant with a mild fungicide.
Frequently Asked Questions
The spore patch on these antler fronds has dried and turned brown. Source: wiccked
Q: Why is my staghorn fern turning brown?
A: That depends on where that browning is happening, actually!
If the tips of your fertile, antler fronds are turning brown, then the only problem is that your staghorn fern is thirsty. Increase the watering frequency a bit more, especially if it’s hot and dry out.
Between the antler fronds, if a large patch turns brown, that’s likely the spore patch drying out so it can release its spores. That means it’s time to harvest your spores!
Shield leaves regularly brown, and that is normal. Over time, the plant will replace its shield leaves and grow new ones. The old ones form a dense layer that offers extra support and protection to the fern’s base. Over time, they also decompose to become plant food.
In the fall or winter, the plant can go dormant in the cooler temperatures. It won’t grow new fronds as quickly then, which means that it may appear to be brown for a longer period of time. However, when the spring comes, it’ll green back up quickly.
Q: Can I feed bananas to my staghorn fern?
A: This is actually an interesting question. There are reports of people who tuck pieces of banana peel under the leaf shield of young plants, where it decomposes and becomes more nutrition for the plant.
This likely works quite well, but it may also attract ants, fruit flies, or other bad stuff to your fern. Also, if it’s not organic, there may be pesticides on the outside that you don’t know about.
What I would recommend instead is to take a little bit of compost and tuck that under or around the shield leaves. You won’t have insect issues with compost, and it will also provide valuable plant food. Just be careful not to use too much, as you don’t want to create a pocket that will hold lots of water!
Q: Can you give me information on the elkhorn spore caterpillar?
A: That is one pest which is extremely rare in the wild!
The elkhorn spore caterpillar, also referred to as the elkhorn fern spore caterpillar or the leather-leaf spore-eater, is a problem only in parts of Australia and New Zealand. Its scientific name is Calicotis crucifera.
Unfortunately, there is very little information on Calicotis crucifera. It is part of the species Lepidoptera, which is a caterpillar species.
It’s known to eat the spores of leatherleaf ferns, and some information states that they only eat leatherleaf fern spores. The common name of “elkhorn spore caterpillar” implies it may attack elkhorn fern spores as well, but it’s not widely documented as being a pest of elkhorn ferns.
Damage caused by this tiny caterpillar includes leaf-tip browning and loss of some, but typically not all, spores on the underside of the leaves.
It can be difficult to find Calicotis crucifera, as they tunnel within the brown spore patches on the underside of leaves. At their maximum size, they reach 6mm in length, which is extremely tiny and hard to spot. Once they have pupated by hanging their cocoon from the underside of a leaf, they emerge as an adult moth.
At present, there are no known predators of this caterpillar. Birds and other small animals may eat the adult moths.
While control methods are recommended if you find evidence of this pest, there have been no control methods recommended in most literature. I recommend a general all-purpose caterpillar killer such as Monterey BT. Bacillus thurigiensis, or BT for short, is an effective means of controlling most caterpillars.
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Staghorn Ferns at a Glance1
Sydney Park Brown2
Once uncommon, staghorn ferns (Figure 1) are now popular and widely available. They are ideally suited to south Florida’s growing conditions and will grow well in central and north Florida if protected from freezing temperatures.
A large staghorn fern.
S. P. Brown, UF/IFAS
Staghorn ferns are members of the Polypodiaceae plant family, and belong to the genus Platycerium. Eighteen species are presently recognized along with many varieties and hybrids. Staghorns are tropical plants native to the Philippines, Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Australia, Madagascar, Africa, and America. In their native habitat they thrive as epiphytes, i.e., plants that derive moisture and nutrients from the air and rain. In the case of staghorn ferns, they are generally found growing harmlessly on tree trunks, branches, or rocks. Tropical rains provide moisture and wash nutrients into the root area.
Staghorn ferns are valued for their highly variable and unusual growth habits. The plant produces two distinctly different fronds (i.e., leaves), (a) basal and (b) foliar. Basal fronds, often called “sterile fronds,” are rounded thickened fronds which grow in overlapping layers and clasp onto a growing surface (Figure 2). The upper parts of basal fronds may be lobed or divided and stand erect. This upright form efficiently collects water, fallen leaves, and plant debris. These products eventually break down, releasing nutrients necessary for growth. Foliar fronds, also called “fertile fronds,” are either erect or pendant and may be divided into lobed or strap-shaped divisions. Foliar fronds produce brownish reproductive structures (called sporangia) on the underside of their fronds (Figure 3). These sporangia hold spores that, when germinated, form new plants. Both basal and foliar fronds are covered to varying degrees, with small stellate (star-shaped) hairs giving them a silvery cast. These hairs provide some protection from insect pests and conserve moisture.
Sterile, basal fronds.
Underside of fertile frond showing sporangia.
Selection, Care, and Culture
Most species of staghorn ferns grow in Florida if their growing requirements are met. Beginners are advised to start with the “easy-to-grow” species, which are readily available at local nurseries. As you become accustomed to their culture and growth habits, you can start to acquire some of the harder-to-grow and more expensive species. A partial list of species is provided below with specific cultural information and notes on their ease or difficulty in growing.
Platycerium bifurcatum. The most common species in cultivation and also the easiest to grow. Produces large numbers of “pups,” eventually forming a very large plant. Dark green color. Hardy to temperatures of around 30°F (–1.1°C) for short periods. Many varieties are available. Native to Australia and New Guinea.
P. veitchii. A common and easy-to-grow species with erect, silvery foliar fronds. Produces pups. Semi-hardy to temperatures of around 30°F (–1.1°C) and tolerant of light frost. A semi-desert species native to Australia that requires a lot of light.
P. hillii. Easy to grow with semi-erect dark green, foliar fronds. Produces pups. Semi-hardy to 40°F (4.4°C). Several varieties are available. Native to Australia and New Guinea.
P. stemaria. Large-growing plant native to tropical Africa. More difficult to grow, requiring temperatures of 80°F (26.6°C) and not below 50°F (10°C). Needs high humidity and frequent watering. Semi-erect, large foliar fronds with a silvery cast when young. Produces pups readily.
P. andinum. Moderately difficult. This dry forest species needs good ventilation, and drying between waterings. Fronds covered with dense silvery hairs. The only Platycerium native to South America, specifically in the mountains of Bolivia and Peru. Temperatures between 70°F–80°F (21.1°C–26.6°C), low of 60°F (15.5°C). Requires low light. Produces pups readily.
P. angolense (syn P. elephantotis). Moderately difficult. Thrives in warm temperatures of 80°F–90°F (26.6°C–32.2°C), low of 60°F (15.5°C). Produces large, un-branched, dark green foliar fronds. Basal fronds brown in the winter. Large fern. Native to dry forests of tropical Africa.
P. grande. Difficult to grow. Likes high humidity but is easily over-watered. Young plants produce only basal fronds. Foliar fronds recline. Light green in color. Does not pup. Tender below 60°F (15.5°C). A large fern, prized by collectors. Native to Philippines.
P. superbum. Difficult to grow. Very similar in appearance to P. grande when young. Easily over-watered. Large reclining foliar fronds light green in color. Does not pup. Hardy to 30°F (–1.1°C) for short periods, although prolonged cold temperatures not tolerated. Prized by collectors. Native to Australia.
Because of their relatively large size (about 3 feet or larger wide), staghorn ferns are rarely grown in pots except when produced as small specimens for sale at nurseries. Their natural, epiphytic growth habit makes them well suited for mounting on slabs of wood, tree fern fiber, or wire baskets. (Figure 4). To mount a fern on a tree, a piece of wood, or tree fern fiber, place a few handfuls of organic growing medium such as peat, compost, or rich potting soil on the object slightly below center. Shape it in a circular mound and place the fern on it so that the basal fronds are in contact with the mounting material. Use wire (not copper), plastic strips, or nylon hose to secure the fern tightly to its mount. When a wire basket is used, pack it with an organic medium and mount and secure the fern “face-up” on the medium. Hang the basket sideways. Pups (small plants) will eventually emerge from the back and sides of the basket and completely cover it.
Staghorn pup mounted to wood slab.
In general, allow the medium to dry completely between watering. This may be difficult to judge since the outer medium may appear dry, but the inner layers and the basal fronds will be saturated. It may be best to wait until the fern slightly wilts before watering. Once watered, it will quickly recover, whereas an over-watered fern will rot and die. Generally, water once a week during dry, hot times of the year, and less during winter and rainy seasons. Older plants, those with spongy layers of old shield fronds, tolerate drought better than less mature plants.
A water-soluble fertilizer with a 1:1:1 ratio (i.e., 10-10-10, 20-20-20) is recommended. Staghorn ferns can be fertilized monthly during the warm, growing months of the year and every other month when growth slows down. Frequent fertilization is only necessary when you want vigorous growth. Large or mature staghorns will survive and thrive with one or two applications a year of controlled-release fertilizer.
Most staghorn ferns thrive best under partially shaded conditions. The dappled light of a shade tree or indirect light on an outdoor porch is ideal. This is the equivalent of 600–2000 foot candles. Very low light conditions produce slow growing ferns that are likely to develop disease and insect problems.
Most staghorn ferns are considered tender or semi-tender to cold and will not tolerate cold temperatures. There are exceptions, such as P. bifurcatum and P. veitchii, which can withstand temperatures as low as 30°F (–1.1°C). South Florida growers will have relatively few occasions when cold protection is needed. Most staghorns grown outdoors are usually in protected, naturally warmer microclimates such as under tree canopy. However, central and north Florida growers should be prepared to bring ferns into a heated garage, greenhouse, or home when extremely cold temperatures are predicted.
Propagating staghorn ferns from spores is slow and difficult and is not practical for most gardeners. Pups (with their root systems) can be carefully removed from large ferns and re-established. Wrap the roots in damp sphagnum and then tie the root ball to a mount. Eventually the sterile frond will expand and grip the mount. (See Mounting above for more details.)
Staghorn ferns are fairly pest free. When kept too wet, they are susceptible to a disease called Rhizoctonia sp. This fungus produces black spots on the basal fronds which can spread rapidly, invade the growing point, and kill the plant. If symptoms appear, withhold water and reduce the humidity to slow the spread. Fungicides are available and generally effective when used as directed.
The insect pests to watch for are mealybugs and scales. Insecticides are effective against these pests but may burn or deform the foliage. Generally non-oil-based insecticides are safer on staghorn ferns than oil-based compounds. Other pests such as snails or slugs can be a problem but are easily controlled. Contact your local UF/IFAS Extension office for specific recommendations for disease and insect management: https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/find-your-local-office/.
This document is ENH36, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date June 1990. Revised September 2013. Reviewed March 2019. Visit the EDIS website at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu for the currently supported version of this publication.
Sydney Park Brown, associate professor emeritus, Environmental Horticulture Department; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.
The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county’s UF/IFAS Extension office.
U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.
Plants & Flowers
Common Names: Elk Horn Fern, Elkhorn, Stag’s Horn Fern
Synonymous: Platycerium alcicorne
Distribution and habitat: Platycerium bifurcatum is an epiphytic rainforest fern native to Australia and New Guinea. This fern will fix itself on trunks or branches of trees with a shielded-shaped frond that clasps on its host bark. A second type of fronds grows on the same fern – the fertile fronds – spreading or drooping and forked like a stag’s antlers, which is what gives its common name.
Decsription: Platycerium bifurcatum is growing to 90cm (35 inch) tall by 80cm (31 inch) broad, it has two kinds of fronds: heart-shaped sterile fronds and arching grey-green fertile fronds. The sterile fronds are 12–45cm (5–18 inch) long growing at the base of the plant and clasps the plant’s support. The fertile fronds are forked and strap-shaped and grow up to 90cm (35 inch) long.
The sterile frond main function is – apart form holding the plant to its support – to trap debris that can be broken down into nutrients as it falls from the branches of the host tree. In time this frond becomes brown and papery and a new green one forms in its place.
The single sterile frond is constantly being replaced, each new one appearing as a small silver spot on top of its predecessor and gradually spreading over the dry brown rather papery surface of the earlier one. When it is young, the new ‘shield’ is a soft peppermint green, which gradually turns brown. At first it clings tightly to the brown patch bellow it, but is unfurls for the last few centimeters (1 inch) of its growth and it is this upward-turning section that catches falling leaves and any other tree debris in the wild.
The fertile fronds are more decorative. They are several in number, fleshy and deep green which is overlaid with fine, white, felty scurf. The overlay of white scurf give the fronds a silvery green appearance. When mature, they have brown spores arranged in dense clusters on their undersides, mainly concentrated at the tips of the fronds.
The fertile fronds develop from the centre of the sterile one; they can extend up to about a metre (3 feet) or so with each of the terminal ‘antlers’ as much as 22cm (9 inch) long. These long folds are often semi-erect with the divided parts drooping a little. There are a number of quite different forms, which have fronds of varying colours and length.
Houseplant care: Platycerium bifurcatum is much the easiest species of Platycerium to grow indoors. It will do best when it grows on a pieces of rough bark or tree fern. Alternatively, Platycerium bifurcatum can grow in moss filled baskets.
Clean the fronds by leaving them in gentle rain in mild weather or by mist-spraying them; Wiping them with a soft cloth or sponge is not a good idea as it will remove the attractive felty scurf. Do not allow water to remain on the fronds.
Light: Platycerium bifurcatum should be kept in a well-lit position away from direct sun.
Strong direct sunlight, however, will rob the fronds of much of their colour and may cause unsightly markings.
Temperature: Platycerium bifurcatum likes temperatures up to 24°C (75°F) as long as humidity is maintained high. An ideal summer temperature is about 21°C (70°F) with a minimum winter temperature of 10°C (50°F).
Maintain a humid atmosphere by mist-spraying the plant once a day.
Airy, well ventilated places suits these ferns best. For this reason is best to grow them suspended on a piece of bark or in hanging baskets.
Water: During the spring and summer give to Platycerium bifurcatum enough water at every watering to make the potting mixture thoroughly moist, but allow the potting mixture to dry out almost completely before watering again. During the rest period water these ferns much more sparingly than in the growing period, giving only enough water to make the mixture barely moist throughout.
Because the ‘shield’ frond often covers the surface, it may be virtually impossible to water some potted Platycerium bifurcatum from above. The way to solve this problem is to submerge the root portion in a large container of water until it is soaked. During the active growth period leave the plant in water for 15 minutes or so at each watering. During the rest period leave the plant in the water for no more then one or two minutes at a time. Whatever the plant is growing actively or resting, do not soak it again until it is obviously in need of water, which will be indicated by abnormally droopy fronds or by an evident loos of weight of the plant.
Fertilising: Feeding is rarely necessary, but mature plants – especially those growing on bark – should have two or three applications of standard liquid fertiliser during the period of active growth. For a satisfactory feeding, the bark section that carries the roots should be immersed for a few minutes in the fertiliser solution until it is thoroughly soaked.
Potting and repotting: There are three ways to grow Platycerium bifurcatum. The most natural way is to let them attach themselves to the rough and moist surface of a piece of bark or similar material; another way is to plant them in wooden hanging baskets; the least satisfactory way is to pot them.
Platycerium bifurcatum plants are often sold growing on a piece of tree fern or bark. When the sterile fronds of such plants have almost covered their backing, fasten the fern onto larger piece of material, either tying or carefully nailing the two together.
To fasten a plant initially to bark wrap the small, spongy root mass in an equal parts mixture of very coarse peat moss and sphagnum moss and tie this bundle securely to the backing with some strong cotton – not nylon – thread. Keep both bark and root mass moist until the roots (which are sparse) and the sterile fronds have adhered to the support.
Alternatively, plant the fern in a wooden, slatted hanging basket (similar to those used for orchids) which is filled with same mixture of peat and sphagnum moss. When established, the plant will gasp the slats firmly.
Platycerium bifurcatum can be grown in pots only when very small, since they wrap their supportive fronds around the pot, which must be broken to sever their hold. It is extremely difficult to move them into larger containers.
Gardening: Within its hardiness zones the Platycerium bifurcatum it is usually grown outdoors. When you grow them epiphytically on a tree, the way they do in nature, they require very little care. The sterile fronds collect falling debris which composts itself in the space between the frond and the tree. This composted organic material absorbs water during rains, which the plant uses when rain becomes scarce.
If not in suitable climate for leaving these plants outdoors all year long, Platycerium bifurcatum is attached to a piece of wood or is grown in hanging baskets. In both cases the fern can be sheltered to safety during harsh winter conditions.
Place them in a well lit position away from direct sun and care them as per indicated above.
Propagation: Propagation is usually from spores and not practical for the indoor amateur grower.
Larger plants occasionally develop more than one growing point and a small side growth can be detached without harming the rest of the plant; this can be treated as a new young specimen on bark or in a basket.
More often, however, old plants are broken up into several separate sections, but it should be kept in mind that the braking-up process may cause considerable damage to some sections.
Problems: Any problems that arise are likely to be the result of incorrect care – insufficient humidity in hot dry conditions or overwatering in winter.
Dry indoor air will cause brown tips.
Treatment: Mist the fronds regularly to keep the humidity high.
However, do not allow the base of the fern to stay wet, which may cause it to rot.
Avoid damaging the fronds by over-handling.
Platycerium bifurcatum are not often troubled with pests, but scale insects sometimes infest the underside of the fronds.
Treatment: They can be treated by applying methylated spirit on a fine-tipped brush direct to each on the insects.
Uses: Platycerium bifurcatum is used as house plant. It is best grown on large slab of bark or wood. It can also be effective in a hanging basket.
Outdoors Platycerium bifurcatum can be grown epiphytically on a tree as well as mounted on a piece of wood or grown in hanging baskets in shaded position.
Foliage – green
Shape – climbing
Height: 60-90 cm (24-36 inch)
Watering in rest period – sparingly
Watering in active growth period – plentifully
Light – bright
Temperature in rest period – min 13°C max 18°C (55-64°F)
Temperature in active growth period – min 18°C max 24°C (64-75°F)
Humidity – high
Hardiness zone: 10a – 11
Flowers Lady Climber, Ferns, Foliage Plants, Indoor Plants, Platycerium Elk Horn Fern, Elkhorn, Platycerium alcicorne, Platycerium bifurcatum, Stag’s Horn Fern
Staghorn Fern Information And Care: How To Grow A Staghorn Fern
Staghorn ferns (Platycerium spp.) have an out-of-this world appearance. The plants have two types of leaves, one of which resembles the horns of a large herbivore. The plants grow outdoors in warm season locations and indoors elsewhere. Mounted or in a basket is how to grow a staghorn fern, because they are epiphytic, growing in trees generally. Staghorn fern care relies on careful light, temperature and moisture monitoring.
Staghorn Fern Information
There are 17 different species of staghorn fern (Platycerium alcicorne) – which in addition to common staghorn fern, go by a number of other common names that include elkhorn fern and antelope ears. Each one has the antler-like foliage as well as a flat basal leaf. The flat leaves are infertile and turn brown and papery with age. They overlap onto a mounting surface and provide stability for the fern. The foliar fronds may droop or be erect, depending upon the variety of fern.
Staghorn ferns produce spores as reproductive organs, which are borne on the on the edges of the lobed antler type fronds. They do not get flowers and they are generally not rooted in soil.
How to Grow a Staghorn Fern
Growing staghorn ferns is easy. If they get low to medium light and moderate moisture, they will thrive. In fact, whether grown indoors or outside, provide moderate moisture and a humus rich medium when growing staghorn ferns. Outdoor plants should be located in partial shade or low light conditions for the best growth, while indoor plants need bright indirect light.
Staghorn ferns are usually grown mounted on a piece of wood or in a basket. They will need a little mound of peat, compost or other organic matter piled up under the plant. Tie the plant onto the growing medium with panty hose or plant strips.
Growing Staghorn Ferns from Pups
Over time the fern will produce pups that will fill in around the main plant. Ferns don’t produce seeds like most plants, so the best way to start a new staghorn fern is from its pups. Use a sharp, sterile knife to cut the pup from the parent plant. Wrap the end of the cut in damp sphagnum moss and tie it on to a piece of wood or bark loosely. Provide the same care of staghorn ferns that you would for an adult fern.
Care of Staghorn Ferns
Care of staghorn ferns relies on careful humidity, light and temperature control. The ferns can live many years with good care and will get several hundred pounds in their natural habitat. Home grown ferns are generally much smaller but they can be in the family for decades.
Good staghorn fern care requires frequent watering, but allow the plant medium to dry out in between.
Fertilize them once per month with a 1:1:1 ration fertilizer diluted in water.
The plant is prone to black spot, which is a fungal disease. Do not water over the foliage and minimize humidity indoors to prevent the disfiguring spores.
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I was so excited to have found a Platycerium Bifurcatum, otherwise known as a Staghorn Fern! I picked it up knowing that I wanted it to be mounted but I had no idea on how to actually do that (it’s easy) and I had no idea what I was to mount it to either. I plunked it on the corner of my bathtub and set about formulating a plan.
Staghorn ferns appreciate humidity so I knew I wanted it to live in the bathroom. I also knew that mounting it on wood could be problematic if the wood decided to break down with moisture and rot. I had some cedar boards that are rot resistant but wanted something a little more decorative than cedar. To the thrift shop I went and when my eyes landed on a teak cheeseboard I knew it was the one. Teak is also rot resistant, it was a cute shape and it had little rubber feet on the back which is ideal to keep it off the wall in case any moisture found it’s way to the underside. The first thing I did was add a picture hanger on the back.
The next thing was to install 4 wood screws onto the front of the surface. The screws act as anchors to wrap wire or fishing line around. Ultimately it will be the screws that keep your fern in place. I recommend drilling pilot holes so your board doesn’t split.
Next, place some sphagnum moss in the center. Remove the fern from it’s pot and knock as much potting soil as you can gently from the root ball. If I were to do this again, I might be a little more aggressive in removing soil. I left most of mine in place and I don’t think it’s necessary and it makes the profile a little deeper than I would like.
Position the fern with it’s shield frond (the brown crispy looking one – do not remove it!) pointed to the top and the other fronds pointing to the bottom. Once you have your fern in place, cover the root ball with more sphagnam. Then, attach floral wire or fishing line to one of the screws and begin wrapping it back and forwards, around and around until the fern becomes secured to the board. Use the screws to anchor it down. Take care not to wrap over the fronds. You can pull it pretty tight without damaging the roots. You don’t want it to be floppy.
Once you feel it’s secure, give it a good soaking, let it drip dry then hang it up!
General Platycerium Bifurcatum – Staghorn Fern Care
Why mount a staghorn fern anyway? It’s not just because of it’s beautiful draping form that we mount these ferns. Platycerium Bifurcatums are epiphytic and that means, like orchids or airplants, these typically are not found growing in soil, but instead grow attached to a tree or in crevices where other debris has collected. Instead of gaining all of it’s requirements from soil, it can absorb moisture and nutrients through it’s leaves, or fronds. So we mount these ferns because it mimics how they are found in nature – and it’s beautiful to boot!
Light: Staghorns like quite a lot of indirect light. They can take a little direct light but you don’t want sunbeams directly on the plant for too long. Mine is in a west facing window with the blinds partially closed to shield it from the afternoon sun.
Water: Your fern will absorb some moisture from the air through the fronds but that won’t be enough to sustain the plant. Remove the fern from the wall and sit it in a sink or tub to soak the roots through thoroughly once a week. Let drip dry and re-hang. I soak mine with the hand held shower head, making sure the water gets through the moss and soaks the root ball. I also rinse the fronds during this time. They love to be misted too! I use tap water for my fern and it seems quite happy. Adjust as necessary depending on weather and humidity in your area and take care not to over water. It’s better to underwater to the point of drooping than to over water as the fronds can rot at the base.
Humidity: If you live in a dry area like I do, you’ll want to keep your staghorn fern in a location that gets some humidity like a bathroom.
Fertilizer: I have read that Platycerium Bifurcatum can be fed with bananas! As I’ve had mine for only a few months, and it’s still early spring, I haven’t yet fertilized it. I will update this information after I have fertilized and liked the results.
Platycerium Bifurcatum Resources:
Not sure which species you have or want to know more about growing Staghorns outdoors? You’ll find that info here.
How big do they get? HUGE! See a 40 year old fern remounted and divided.
What is an Epiphyte?
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It’s a fact: staghorn ferns are stunning. Mounted on a board, wrapped in vintage burlap, and hung a wall, these plants are truly works of living art.
There are dozens of species of staghorn ferns, and until recently, they were quite rare. Now though–thanks to species native to Australia, Platycerium bifurcatum, that is relatively easy to care for and propagate–they’re increasingly popular house plants.
Staghorn fern care intimidates many people who visit our nursery, and we’ll be the first to admit that these plants can be picky. Before we dive into our best practices for staghorn fern care, it’s essential to know a bit of background information about how these epiphytic beauties grow.
Staghorn Ferns are Epiphytes
Though you can find young staghorn ferns sold in pots, mature plants need to be mounted to a board or hung in a hanging basket. Why? Because, like air plants, staghorn ferns are epiphytic plants, which means that in they grow on other plants or trees in their natural growing environments.
In the tropics (and even warmer parts of the US like Florida), staghorn ferns grow to truly massive proportions, jutting dramatically out of the crooks of trees. Their roots hold them in place, and they absorb water and nutrients through their fronds.
Anatomy of a Staghorn Fern
One of the reasons that staghorn fern care seems daunting is that the plant’s anatomy differs from that of most other common houseplants — even other ferns. There are about 12,000 fern species, and ferns are amongst the most ancient plants. Whereas other plant species reproduce through flowers and seeds, ferns have neither; rather, they release microscopic spores into the air (a bit like mushrooms and mosses), which eventually become new plants.
Fern leaves are actually called fronds, and staghorn ferns have two types. The first, and most prominent, is the “antler” frond – these are the large, bifurcated leaves that shoot out of the center of the plant, and from which staghorn ferns get their names, since they resemble the antlers of deer or moose. Spores develop on the lower these fronds, and look a bit like brown fuzz — don’t remove the spores! This is a no-no in staghorn fern care.
The second type of staghorn fern frond is called the shield frond. These are the round, hard plate-like leaves that surround the base of the plant. Their function is to protect the plant roots, and take up water and nutrients. These fronds start out green, but eventually turn brown and dry up. This is a totally normal part of the staghorn fern life-cycle — in fact, this is one of the most common misconceptions in staghorn fern care. A brown shield frond does not mean your staghorn fern is dying, and dried shield fronds should never be removed!
The final part of the staghorn fern is the root ball. Since stags are epiphytes, their root systems are fairly minimal, and help the plant attach to its home. Because the roots are so minimal, staghorn ferns need extensive drainage and are particularly susceptible to root rot.
Now that we have a bit of background about these mounted beauties, here’s our best practices for staghorn fern care.
How Much Light Does a Staghorn Fern Need?
When you picture a fern, you probably imagine the shady, lush forest floors of the Pacific Northwest. You might then think that your stag will appreciate a dark space, but you would be wrong. Staghorn ferns, on the otherhand, are native to the tropics — the species that we most commonly feature, Platycerium bifurcatum, is native to Australia.
Staghorn ferns need bright, indirect or diffused light to thrive, though they must be protected from the harsh rays of the direct sun. We tell people to put staghorn ferns in the brightest space in their home where, again, the plant will not take direct sun. Rooms with Southern and Eastern exposures tend to be best, though unobstructed North windows will do. Western light is fine, but be careful, as this afternoon exposure tends to be hot and harsh.
Can Staghorn Ferns Survive in Artificial Light?
Unfortunately, the short answer is no. We don’t recommend putting your staghorn in a room without natural sun. Basements tend to be a no-go.
How to Water a Staghorn Fern
Your watering regimen consists of two processes: misting and soaking.
Misting your staghorn fern
- Use a spray-bottle that emits a fine, ambient mist, such as a brass mister.
- Mist the entire plant, focusing on the underside of the antler fronds and the shield fronds.
Soaking your staghorn fern
- Dunk your staghorn fern in a sink or basin of water for about a minute, or until the plant’s roots are fully saturated
- Alternately, place the plaque in a sink or bathtub tap, and allow room-temperature water to run through the root ball until it is saturated.
- Allow your plant to drip dry before re-hanging.
How Often to Water a Staghorn Fern
Under and over-watering are the most common causes of staghorn fern failure. There is no hard and fast rule as to how often a staghorn fern will need watering – the amount of light, humidity and heat they receive in your home will dictate your watering schedule. However, here are a few rules that tend to work well for us:
- A good rule of thumb is to water once per week in dry, hot times of year, and once every two to three weeks during cooler months. Start with this schedule, and adjust as necessary depending on your space.
- Staghorn ferns absorb water through their fronds, as well as their roots. This means that they respond well to misting and appreciate humid spaces.
- More humidity = less watering. If your staghorn fern is in a space where it receives lots of ambient humidity, like a bathroom, you’ll probably be able to reduce your misting and watering.
- More light or heat = more watering. During the summer, be especially attentive to your stag. Most species can handle a bit of drought, even to the point of wilting, but not much more. Through summer and fall, mist your plant regularly, and check the moss at the base of the plant regularly for dryness.
- Less light or heat = less watering. Remember – these plants don’t tolerate overwatering. During the winter, you’ll likely need to cut back on watering. Keep in mind, though, that if your plant is directly over a heating duct or near a fireplace, that will dry your plant more quickly.
- If the antler fronds begin to brown or blacken at the base, this is a sign of over-watering. Reduce watering to once monthly until plant shows sign of recovery
- If the antler fronds begin to brown at the tips or wilt, this is a sign of under-watering. Increase watering as needed.
A Note on Moosehorn Ferns
Moosehorn ferns — Plateceryium grande — are more drought tolerant and slightly more susceptible to root-rot than other staghorn fern species.
To water these plants, we recommend that when the soil/moss at the base of the plant feels dry (if no moss is exposed, gauge by weight of mount), place plant under faucet and run the tap so water flows on the board, behind the plant, for about 3-5 minutes.
Try to avoid wetting the foliage. If a black spot appears on the flat shield frond, that is an indication of over-watering. Try decreasing watering and improving air circulation to make sure the plant is able to adequately dry out after watering. This is especially important during winter.
Staghorn ferns are surprisingly cold-hardy, but for optimal growth, the temperature should not be allowed to drop below 50 degrees or above 100 degrees.
Staghorn ferns can be placed outdoors when temperatures stay within this range. Be extra careful to keep staghorns out of direct sun and well-watered when hung outdoors. Bring your staghorn fern back inside when temperatures get chilly at night.
Fertilizing your staghorn fern will promote vigorous growth, especailly in younger plants
Feed your staghorn fern monthly during periods of active grown (spring and summer). Use a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer (ratio of 1:1:1). During periods of dormancy (fall and winter), reduce fertilizing to every other month.
Some people suggest feeding your staghorn fern by slipping a piece of banana peel under the shield frond. We’ve never tried this method, but would love to hear from you if you’ve had success!
Mature staghorn ferns can survive with a twice-yearly feeding.
Remounting Your Staghorn Fern
Our burlap-wrapped staghorn ferns are intended as permanent installations, and we don’t recommend re-mounting your staghorn fern. Since the plant is epiphytic, the root space on the original board will be sufficient.
However, when the shield fronds begin to creep to the edges of the plaque, standard practice is to attach your board to a larger piece of wood with a few nails (see image). Be careful not to nail through the shield frond or root ball when remounting!
Follow these staghorn fern care guidelines, and you should see your plant thriving in no time! Have any questions or your own best practices for staghorn fern care? Share with us in the comments!
Staghorn Fern Outdoor Care – Growing A Staghorn Fern In The Garden
At garden centers you may have seen staghorn fern plants mounted on plaques, growing in wire baskets or even planted in small pots. They are very unique, eye-catching plants and when you see one it’s easy to tell why they are called staghorn ferns. Those who have seen this dramatic plant often wonder, “Can you grow staghorn ferns outside?” Continue reading to learn about growing staghorn ferns outdoors.
Staghorn Fern Outdoor Care
The staghorn fern (Platycerium spp.) is native to tropical locations of South America, Africa, Southeast Asia, and Australia. There are 18 species of staghorn ferns, also known as elkhorn ferns or moosehorn ferns, that grow as epiphytes in tropical regions all over the world. Some of these species have naturalized in Florida. Epiphytic plants grow on tree trunks, branches and sometimes even rocks; many orchids are also epiphytes.
Staghorn ferns get their moisture and nutrients from the air because their roots do not grow in soil like other plants. Instead, staghorn ferns have small root structures which are shielded by specialized fronds, called basal or shield fronds. These basal fronds look like flat leaves and cover the root ball. Their main function is to protect the roots and collect water and nutrients.
When a staghorn fern plant is young, the basal fronds may be green. As the plant ages though, the basal fronds will turn brown, shriveled and may look dead. These are not dead and it is important to never remove these basal fronds.
A staghorn fern’s foliar fronds grow up and out from the basal fronds. These fronds have the appearance of deer or elk horns, giving the plant its common name. These foliar fronds carry out the plant’s reproductive functions. Spores may appear on the foliar fronds and look like the fuzz on a buck’s antlers.
Growing a Staghorn Fern in the Garden
Staghorn ferns are hardy in zones 9-12. That being said, when growing staghorn ferns outdoors it is important to know that they may need to be protected if temperatures dip below 55 degrees F. (13 C.). This is why many people grow staghorn ferns in wire baskets or mounted on a piece of wood, so they can be taken indoors if it becomes too cold for them outdoors. The staghorn fern varieties Platycerium bifurcatum and Platycerium veitchi can reportedly handle temperatures as low as 30 degrees F. (-1 C.).
Optimal staghorn fern outdoor conditions are a part shade to shady location with plenty of humidity and temperatures that stay between 60-80 degrees F. (16-27 C.). Although young staghorn ferns may be sold in pots with soil, they cannot survive very long like this, as their roots will quickly rot.
Most often, staghorn ferns outdoors are grown in a hanging wire basket with sphagnum moss around the root ball. Staghorn ferns get most of the water they need from humidity in the air; however, in dry conditions it may be necessary to mist or water your staghorn fern if it looks like it is beginning to wilt.
During summer months, you can fertilize staghorn fern in the garden once a month with a general purpose 10-10-10 fertilizer.
Several species of staghorn ferns in cultivation.
Staghorn ferns are a group of about 18 species of epiphytic ferns in the genus Platycerium of the polypod family (Polypodiaceae) native primarily to Africa, Australia and Southeast Asia, whose fronds supposedly resemble the forked antlers of male deer or elk.
A large hanging staghorn fern in a Florida landscape.
The names “staghorn fern” and “elkhorn fern” are often used interchangeably, although those with thinner fronds are often called elkhorn ferns.
A mature Platycerium bifurcatum.
P. bifurcatum is the species most commonly cultivated as an ornamental plant, since it is probably the easiest to grow. Native to rainforests of Java, New Guinea and southeastern Australia, it does best with year-round temperatures above 40°F, so it can only be grown in gardens with a very mild climate (zones 9 and above) or as a house plant that can be moved outdoors during the summer. It has naturalized in Florida and Hawaii, where it is considered an invasive species on the islands. Staghorn fern makes a great ornamental adornment for a wall indoors or seasonally outdoors in the Midwest. This species was given the Royal Horticulture Society’s Award of Garden Merit in 1993.
The sterile basal fronds.
A mature P. bifurcatum can be as big as 3 feet across. The plant grows from short rhizomes that produce two types of fronds. The sterile (non-reproductive) basal fronds are the rounded to heart-shaped, overlapping, clasping, shield-like structures at the base of the fern (sometimes called the back plates). Initially dull green and succulent, they become papery tan to cinnamon-brown with age. They are flattened against the tree to protect the rhizome and tufted roots that grow from it and collect detritus that can provide nutrients for the plant. The fertile (reproductive) or foliar fronds are the brighter green, forked, strap-shaped portions most people would consider the “leaves” growing up from the base. These irregularly lobed, arching fronds grow up to 18 inches long. Each frond branches into two or three segments a number of times along its length. Spores are produced in sporangia in the dark brownish masses (sori) on the underside of the tips of these fertile fronds. Each plant is really a collection of many offsets (called suckers or pups) crammed together and will continue to grow new plantlets as the rhizomes expand out and produce new sterile fronds.
The branched fronds (L) are the fertile fronds which produce spores in sori on the undersides of the tips (LC-R).
Some staghorn species, such as P. superbum, grow upright to form a “nest”.
All staghorn fern species produce both basal and foliar fronds, although the length, width, and amount of division of the fertile fronds varies greatly between species. The fertile fronds may be erect or drooping. Some other species have basal fronds that grow upright to form a “nest” to trap falling organic matter, while the shape of the shield produced by the overlapping basal fronds varies from rounded to kidney-shaped. And some species are solitary (don’t produce offsets).
Staghorn frens are epiphytes that need some sort of support on which to grow.
As epiphytes, staghorn ferns do not grow in soil, but attach to trees when growing in nature. Small plants can be grown in containers, with a rich and very well-drained medium. In indoor cultivation, staghorn ferns are typically grown mounted on wooden boards or bark slabs, in wire baskets, or on other supports that provide the essential perfect drainage and are more convenient for plant management than a living tree (as well as better showing off their distinctive looks and beauty than in a container). Some sort of growing medium – often sphagnum or peat moss – is provided for the roots coming from the basal fronds to grow into. The fern is secured to the support by monofilament fishing line, wire, plastic mesh or other materials wrapped over/through the dead, brown shield-shaped basal fronds (not over the soft, green fronds or they will be badly damaged or killed) to hold it in place until well established. As new basal fronds are produced, they will hide the fastening material as they grow over the old fronds.
P. bifurcatum growing on tree outdoors in a tropical climate.
These tropical plants need good air circulation, bright indirect light, warm temperatures, moderate humidity and consistent moisture. Staghorn ferns absorb water through their fronds as well as the roots so be sure to soak the basal fronds and the medium. Allow some drying of the growing medium in between waterings; staghorn ferns rot easily if overwatered. Rainwater is best if it is available. Established plants are fairly drought tolerant so can withstand fairly long periods without water. More moisture is needed when growing in summer and less in cold weather. They can tolerate more direct sunlight when humidity and temperatures are high, but also require more water when in direct light.
Provide staghorn ferns with warm temperatures, plentiful moisture and excellent drainage for best results.
These plants do best with normal household temperatures above 55F. Staghorn ferns grown as house plants can be moved outside for the growing season once nighttime temperatures are consistently in the 40’s, acclimating them gradually to the higher light levels outside. Although staghorn fern can survive briefly freezing temperatures down to the mid-20sF, it is best to move plants indoors before nighttime temperatures drop into the 40’s in the fall. Plants can be fertilized monthly during the warmer months with balanced, diluted liquid fertilizer or slow-release fertilizer pellets placed in the growing medium. Providing sufficient humidity can be a challenge indoors and may require frequent misting when ambient humidity is low. If the light and air circulation is appropriate, a bathroom is an ideal place with its periodic humidity from the shower. Staghorn fern has few pests, but may become infested with scale insects or mealybugs. The tan or brown, shield-like basal fronds shouldn’t be removed even if they look dead until they fall off naturally, as they help anchor and protect the plant. And don’t try to wipe off the tiny whitish-grey, furry scales on the fertile fronds that makes them dusty-looking as that covering helps slow transpiration. Withered fertile fronds can be pruned off.
P. bifurcatum produces pups which can be carefully removed for propagation.
Like all ferns, these plants go through two alternating stages, the diploid sphorophyte (the plant we recognize as a fern) and haploid gametophyte. Spores produced on the adult plants grow into the gametophyte, a small heart- or kidney-shaped body (that is rarely noticed as it is green and only one cell thick, without roots, stems or leaves) that has both male and female sex organs. These mature at different times to increase the likelihood of cross fertilization, releasing flagellate sperm that swim to the eggs that are produced in flask-shaped structures (called archegonia) on other gametophytes. Once fertilized, a zygote is formed, which grows into a new sporophyte.
Staghorn fern can be propagated from the spores, but because that is such a slow process they generally are propagated by division, carefully cutting off small pups with a sharp knife, making sure each piece has some fertile and sterile fronds and roots. New divisions should be kept warm and moist until established, which may take a long time.
Several other species of staghorn ferns are available from specialty growers for plant collectors (many of which are much more challenging to grow than P. bifurcatum).
- P. andinum is the only staghorn fern native to the New World. This species from the seasonally dry forest on the Amazonian slopes of the Andes of Peru has loosely overlapping sterile fronds forming a flaring crown-like shield and very long, narrowly segmented, lobed and prominently veined fertile fronds that hang like green straps to five feet or more.
- P. coronarium, from Southeast Asia and the East Indies, has broad sterile fronds and narrow, pendulous, forked fertile fronds up to 15 feet long.
- P. grande is a solitary species with upright, fan-shaped sterile fronds forming a nest up to 4 feet across and large, drooping, strap-like, unbranched fertile fronds up to 6 feet long.
- P. hillii has bright green fertile fronds only 2-3 feet long, and both sterile and fertile fronds are much broader with wide bifurcations.
P. superbum, native to Australia, forms a “nest” of upright, wide, bifurcating sterile fronds that traps leaves and other detritus to develop humus to provide the plant with nutrients. It has broad, branching hanging fertile fronds that dangle two to three feet below the body of the fern. Naturalized plants in Hawaii are now considered a “problem species.” It is touchy about cold, heat and overwatering and doesn’t produce offsets, so is only propagated from spores.
- P. veitchii is smaller and slower-growing than P. bifurcatum, with fuzzy, blue-green fronds. It is more sun tolerant, too.
– Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin – Madison
I love staghorn ferns … each one is a horticultural work of art, truly. I remember distinctly when I first saw a staghorn fern. It was in a design or architecture magazine and there were several of them hanging on a wall stealing the show from all the furniture and artwork and I thought … “wowza”.
Then, I had my first up close and personal meet and greet with one in a greenhouse in Connecticut and my heart went pitter patter. But, it wasn’t until I moved to Santa Barbara that I got one for my very own and discovered how very easy they are to grow.
Platycerium bifurcatums, interchangeably called both staghorn and elkhorn ferns, are easy to grow outdoors that is. They aren’t quite as easy (you can almost neglect one outside) but by no means impossible to grow inside. I’ll get to the indoor care a few paragraphs down.
I wanted to film a video about caring for these wild and wacky ferns but thought why do it in my garage or garden when I can do it in the little horticultural eden created by The Horticults. Two green thumbs up, they were game to do the video so be sure to check it out at the end of this post.
Here’s Ryan, half of The Horticult, making an adjustment to the staghorn wall underneath the tangerine tree.
Ryan and I talk about how we each care for our staghorn ferns in the video but I’m going to outline it here too. Keep in mind that I live in Santa Barbara and he’s in La Jolla so they thrive in our coastal Southern California climate.
Bright shade or filtered light, like under a tree. Just know they will burn in direct sun. This is not a plant for the California or Arizona desert. My staghorn fern sits on the sunny patio off our office where a low bamboo fence shades it from direct sun. The Horticult’s ferns are hanging on a fence where they’re shaded by a tree.
I water mine once a week. Because I live 7 blocks from the beach, it draws some moisture from the air. They prefer to be drier than wetter. If yours is hanging, it’s tougher to overwater than if it’s in a pot. They are epiphytes after all, just like orchids & bromeliads.
Nice & rich but well draining. For mine in the pot, I used an equal mix of potting soil, compost & orchid bark chips with a couple of handfuls of worm castings mixed in.
Here are a couple hanging back to back in the tropical greenhouse at the LA Arboretum.
The staghorn ferns are tougher, in all ways, than you might think. They are cold tolerant to 27 degrees. Conversely, they don’t like it hot & dry.
In nature, they grow in trees in the tropics where they pull nutrients from the air. Because Santa Barbara is not a tropical rainforest, I top dress mine with worm castings every Spring for a little nutrient fix. Also, in April & August I water in some seaweed extract which is basically processed kelp. I’ve read that staghorn also like a combo of fish emulsion & banana peels.
A frond (fern speak for leaf) occasionally turns yellow but that’s about it. My trusty Felcos don’t get a workout with this plant!
Mine has never gotten any in the 4 years I’ve had it. I’ve heard they can be susceptible to snails, slugs, mealy bug & scale.
A platycerium to be adored – her gown touches the ground! This pic was taken at Lotusland in neighboring Montecito. Maybe mine will be this big in 50 years!
Design-wise, they’re fun to play with. Staghorns can be mounted on wood or directly onto a tree (like the one pictured above). Put 3 or 4 in a large wire hanging basket and it will turn into a platycerium globe. Or, like I’m doing with mine for the time being, you can grow them in a pot.
Below you’ll see 3 Platycerium superbums which are commonly called Moosehorn Ferns. Their fronds and shields are ginormous. They’re a little fussier than the staghorns and not as tough. Regardless, they’re sighted occasionally around Southern California, usually in a protected spot.
At Sherman Gardens
City Farmers Nursery
At Sherman Gardens
Here’s a big red flag: Those round basal fronds (leaves in case you forgot) at the base of the staghorn ferns eventually turn brown. Resist the urge to cut them off because they serve two really big purposes. They not only shield the foliar, deer horn like fronds and roots but also take up nutrients for the plant. Don’t remove them!
As mentioned above, they aren’t easy peasy indoors like a snake plant or pothos but they aren’t impossible. If you travel a lot, you might consider making another choice. Here’s the scoop on caring for them as a houseplant:
As bright as possible with little direct sun. Their favorite is an eastern exposure.
In the active growing season (those warmer months with more light) water every 7-10 days. Make sure to not overwater because it will rot them out. In the cooler months, back off with the watering, perhaps every 10 – 14 days. If yours is on wood or a piece of bark, you can take it to the sink & soak it for a few minutes. If it’s wet even though it’s been 14 days since you’ve watered it, don’t. Get the picture?!
See soil above, & it’s even more important to make sure the soil drains very well if it’s indoors.
This is my staghorn which I have temporarily planted in a vintage daisy pot from the 50’s (love this pot by the way!). And yes, that’s lobelia which has snuck its way in there. It seeds like crazy all over parts of my garden.
Staghorn Ferns are native to the tropical rainforests, an environment which your home is probably not. They would love to be misted a couple of times a day but as we know, probably not gonna happen. The best places for your ferns to hang out would be the bathroom or the kitchen where the humidity is a bit higher. Mist them 2-3 times a week and be sure to keep them away from heaters & air conditioners.
See fertilizing above. Avoid over-fertilizing because they’re susceptible to salt damage which means their fronds will burn baby burn. Read about my worm compost/compost feeding right here.
They could get mealy bug, scale or where your air is extremely dry, spider mites.
Here’s another red flag: Don’t wipe off their fronds with vim and vigor because you’ll take off that waxy coating. It holds the moisture in for the leaves. A light dusting is the ticket if yours needs it.
Hanging out with the lovely & enchanting Ryan & Chantal, aka The Horticult, post video. And yes, cocktails were needed to recover from the arduous filming!
So, if you see an impressive Staghorn Fern, pull out your camera, jump right in and take advantage of the photo op. They make a stunning backdrop!
Here’s where you can find The Horticult
Here’s how Ryan mounted their staghorn ferns.
note: pics not watermarked were taken by The Horticult
Finally, you arrived at the video. Also thrown in the mix with staghorn fern care is a bit about how Ryan mounted theirs:
Here’s a short video I did for eHow.com on pruning a stag horn fern:
Staghorn Fern Cold Hardiness: How Cold Tolerant Are Staghorn Ferns
Staghorn ferns (Platycerium sp.) are unique, dramatic plants that are sold in many nurseries as houseplants. They are commonly known as staghorn, moose horn, elk horn or antelope ear ferns because of their large reproductive fronds that look like antlers. Native to tropical forests of Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Australia, Madagascar, Africa and South America, there are approximately 18 species of staghorn fern. Generally, only a few varieties are available in nurseries or greenhouses because of their very specific temperature and care requirements. Continue reading to learn about the cold hardiness of a staghorn fern, as well as care tips.
Staghorn Ferns and Cold
In the wild, staghorn ferns are epiphytes, which grow on tree trunks, branches or rocks in very warm, humid tropical forests. In warm enough climates, like southern Florida, staghorn fern spores, which are carried upon wind, have been known to naturalize, creating huge plants in the crotches of native trees like live oak.
Although, large trees or rocky outcrops host staghorn fern plants, the staghorn ferns do not cause any damage or harm to their hosts. Instead, they acquire all the water and nutrients that they need from the air and fallen plant debris through their basal fronds, which cover and protect their roots.
As home or garden plants, staghorn fern plants need growing conditions which mimic their native growth habits. First and foremost, they require a warm, humid location to grow, preferably hanging. Staghorn ferns and cold weather do not work, though a few varieties can tolerate very short periods of temperatures down to 30 F. (-1 C.).
Staghorn ferns also need a partly shaded or shaded location. Shady areas of the garden can sometimes be cooler than the rest of the garden, so keep this in mind when placing a staghorn fern. Staghorn ferns that are mounted on boards or grown in wire baskets will also need supplemental nutrients from regular fertilizing since they usually aren’t able to attain the required nutrients from debris of a host tree.
Cold Hardiness of a Staghorn Fern
Certain varieties of staghorn ferns are more commonly grown and sold in nurseries or greenhouses because of their cold hardiness and minimal care requirements. In general, staghorn ferns are hardy in zone 8 or above and considered to be cold tender or semi-tender plants and should not be exposed to temperatures below 50 F. (10 C.) for long periods.
Some varieties of staghorn ferns can tolerate temperatures colder than this, while other varieties can’t handle temps that low. You will need a variety that can survive outdoor temperatures in your area, or be prepared to cover or move plants indoors during cold periods.
Below are several commonly grown varieties of staghorn ferns and cold tolerance of each. Please keep in mind that while they can tolerate short periods of these low temperatures, they will not survive long periods exposed to cold. The best locations for staghorn ferns have daytime temperatures around 80 F. (27 C.) or more and night temperatures of 60 F. (16 C.) or more.
The Staghorn Fern is an unusual plant, being both an air plant and a fern, though it bears little resemblance to most ferns. In its natural environment of tropical forests, the plant grows on tree trunks or rocks, absorbing moisture from the humid air and collecting nutrients from the falling leaves of overhead trees.
The Staghorn Fern can be grown as a houseplant or outside in gardens with mild climates. Most typically, it is mounted on a surface and displayed on a wall, like a piece of art in its own right. The plant has two types of leaves: the lower heart-shaped leaves, which are brown when mature, and the plentiful antler-shaped leaves, which are the most decorative part of the plant and also show how the Staghorn Fern got its common name (San Diego Zoo- Animals and Plants).
If you can provide the right conditions, this plant is easy to care for and can be a stunning and unusual feature in your home.
|Origin||Australia, Asia, and Africa|
|Type||Evergreen epiphytic fern|
|Common Names||Staghorn Fern, Antler Fern, Elkhorn Fern, Antelope Ears|
|Ideal Temperature||60-80° F|
|Toxicity||Non-toxic to people and pets (ASPCA)|
|Light||Partial shade to bright, indirect light|
|Watering||Water cautiously according to growing medium and conditions|
Table of Contents
Caring for Your Staghorn Fern
Staghorn Ferns are epiphytes, meaning that they do not naturally grow in soil but instead use their roots to anchor themselves to host trees
Staghorn Ferns are epiphytes, meaning that they do not naturally grow in soil but instead use their roots to anchor themselves to host trees, where they live. Staghorn Ferns are not parasitic, because although they fix themselves onto trees, they do not take any nutrients from the trees or harm them in any way. Being an epiphyte means that Staghorn Ferns do not require soil to grow and instead can be grown at home on a variety of different growing mediums.
Many people choose to mount their Staghorn Fern on a wooden board or hang it from a wide basket. In these instances, sphagnum moss is generally the best growing medium. Fix it to your board or basket with wires, and then, securely attach your plant on top of this. The root ball will be quite small as Staghorn Ferns do not rely on roots to absorb moisture and nutrients, but the root ball does need to be making contact with the sphagnum moss.
It is also possible to plant a Staghorn Fern in a pot in a more traditional way, but you must not use standard potting soil as this will be too suffocating for the roots of the plant. A Staghorn Ferns roots are accustomed to having access to air and so will need a potting mix that allows for this. A mix of orchid bark and cactus soil should work fine.
Remember that in order to achieve the best health and growth from your plant, you need to try to mimic its natural environment as much as possible. As the Staghorn Fern grows on the side of trees in the rainforest, this is quite a difficult habitat to recreate, but most gardeners consider that hanging or mounting the plant on sphagnum moss is the best way to achieve this.
In order to understand the watering requirements of the Staghorn Fern, you need to understand a little about the science of the plant and how it absorbs moisture and nutrients. The Fern has two types of leaves: fertile and sterile. On a mature Staghorn Fern, it is easy to quickly distinguish between the two because the fertile leaves are the long antler-shaped green leaves, while the sterile leaves are the brown and dry looking leaves at the base of the plant.
On younger plants, the sterile leaves start out pale green, but as they age, it is normal for them to become brown and look almost dead. They fulfill a very important purpose to the survival of the plant, so it’s vital that you don’t remove the brown leaves. The primary function of the fertile leaves is reproduction. They produce spores from which new Staghorn Ferns can be grown. The sterile leaves are how the plant feeds itself and protects itself. In its natural habitat, the brown leaves would catch falling debris and foliage from other plants, which, over time, would decompose and release nutrients that would be absorbed by the plant.
The sterile leaves are also able to absorb moisture, so in the humid environment of the rainforest, this would be the main way that the plant gets its water. The sterile leaves are also referred to as shield leaves, as they grow around the root ball, protecting it.
When the Staghorn Fern is grown as a houseplant or outside in a garden, the way you water it will depend on the growing medium you have used. In most instances, the plant will be growing on sphagnum moss. In this case, you need to slowly pour water onto the sphagnum moss with a narrow-mouthed watering can so that it becomes saturated. The roots of the Staghorn Fern will then absorb water from the sphagnum moss.
If the plant is potted in bark or a soil mix, then you can treat it similarly to an orchid. Water the plant a little at a time, being careful not to saturate the soil. You could use a few ice cubes each week as a watering method; as they melt, they will gradually water the plant, ensuring that the soil never becomes too wet. As the sterile leaves also absorb moisture, you can spray them with a water mist to water the plant, but be careful not to mist the fertile leaves. Sitting water on the fertile leaves can block their pores and interfere with the production of spores.
In terms of the amount and frequency of watering, the Staghorn Fern does not like to be too wet. In the rainforest, the roots of the Staghorn Fern receive water when it rains, but as they grow on the sides of trees, the rainwater would then drain through the plant and onto the forest floor. This would prevent the roots from ever becoming too wet.
To avoid overwatering at home, allow the growing medium to become dry between waterings, and only water when the fertile green leaves start to droop. While it is normal for the sterile leaves to become brown and crispy, it is not normal for the fertile leaves to brown or for dark patches to appear on any of the leaves. If this happens, it’s a sign that the plant has been overwatered and you need to adjust your watering method accordingly.
Typically, you can expect to be watering your Staghorn Fern once or twice a week during warmer months and once every two weeks during cooler months. The level of humidity will affect how often you need to water, as the sterile fronds will be taking in more water in times of high humidity and, therefore, require less manual watering.
Similarly, higher levels of light or heat mean the plant will need more water than when it is dark or cold. Pay attention to your plant and how it reacts to your watering methods. A heavy plant is likely holding a lot of water and doesn’t need more, whereas the reverse is true if it feels light. Dark tips on the fronds mean the plant isn’t getting enough water, and you will need to provide it with more moisture.
Soaking the Staghorn Fern is an alternative method of watering that you can use. You can do this instead of directly watering the plant if you do it often enough, or you can soak it occasionally between your regular waterings. To soak the plant, fill a large tub or container with water and submerge the plant. Face down is typically easiest, or for larger plants that struggle to fit all of the leaves into the container, you can soak the root ball instead. Allow the plant to soak for around twenty minutes, then let it completely dry before hanging it back up.
In the mild and temperate climates of tropical rainforests, Staghorn Fern in their natural habitats are not exposed to the cold. When kept as a houseplant or outdoors in your garden you will need to make sure that these conditions are as closely replicated as possible. Ideal daytime temperatures for this plant will be somewhere in the region of 80° F, dropping to around 60° F overnight.
There are 18 varieties of Staghorn Fern, and most of these are not cold hardy, though there are some exceptions. The Platycerium alcicorne and the Platycerium hillii can tolerate occasional low temperatures of 40° F, while the Platycerium veitchi can tolerate temperatures dropping as low as 30° F. These are the best varieties of Staghorn Fern to have in your garden if you expect temperatures to occasionally dip to these points, though it should be noted that the plants cannot tolerate these low temperatures for sustained periods of time and should be brought indoors for winter protection.
For Staghorn Fern houseplants, the usual temperature of your home should suit the plant just fine. Ensure that the plant is not placed too close to areas which might experience cold drafts, such as doorways or air conditioning units. If you live in a climate which gets quite cold over winter, you’ll need to make sure that your heating is kept on, even if you go on vacation, to prevent the plant from getting too cold.
Staghorn Ferns grow on tree trunks in their natural habitat of the rainforest and are shaded by the leaves of the taller trees overhead, receiving irregular streaks of sunlight through the movement of the foliage canopy above. From this, it’s easy to see why Staghorn Ferns do best in partial shade and bright, indirect light. At home or in your garden, display them in an area protected from direct sunlight, as this will harm the plant. Bright filtered light or shade is fine, although a mix of the two would be ideal.
In its natural environment, the Staghorn Fern is surrounded by very humid air, upwards of 70 and 80%. It is very unlikely that the air within a home would ever be this humid, so you will need to take steps to increase humidity around the plant in order to help it thrive. The brown sterile leaves of the plant absorb moisture from the air as a means of supplying itself with water, so very dry air will not benefit the Staghorn Fern. One easy way to increase the humidity in your home is to use an electric humidifier, which releases tiny water particles into the air. This would be particularly beneficial if you have several humidity-loving houseplants.
The most common way to increase humidity for houseplants is with frequent water misting, but this should be avoided for the Staghorn Fern. Sitting water on the fertile leaves can block the pores and cause damage to the plant. You can mist the sterile brown leaves, as they absorb moisture, but be careful not to accidentally spray the upper green leaves.
If you have planted your Staghorn Fern in a pot, then you could use a pebble tray underneath it filled with water. As the water evaporates, it will increase the humidity around the plant. Just be sure that the water level is always lower than the pebble to prevent water from being absorbed up through the drainage holes of the pot by the soil. Obviously, if you have mounted your Staghorn Fern, then a pebble tray will not be an option. You might consider displaying it in an area of your home that is naturally more humid, such as a bathroom or kitchen. Staghorn Ferns also do well in greenhouses, where humidity is higher.
Fertilizer is an essential part of Staghorn Fern care. When attached to a tree or rock in its natural habitat, the lower fronds of the plant collect fallen leaves from other plants and trees, which decompose down and, in the process, release nutrients that the Staghorn Fern absorbs. This method of obtaining nutrients will not occur when the plant is grown outside of its native location, so you will need to replace the nutrients in a different way. To do this, give your plant a regular fertilizer feeding. Using a diluted liquid feed with a 1: 1 ratio, you can feed the plant once a month.
This plant does not need to be pruned
This plant does not need to be pruned. Sometimes, the lower fronds which have turned brown can be mistaken for dead leaves and get removed, but this is an error. Though they resemble dead parts of a plant, these sterile leaves perform vital functions for the Staghorn Fern and should not be pruned. They serve the purpose of absorbing moisture and nutrients to feed the plant, as well as shielding the root ball. There will come a time when these leaves expire and can be removed; you will know when this is the case because they will only be held onto the plant very loosely and can be easily pulled off.
Staghorn Fern propagation can be achieved in two ways: from spores or from offshoots (Royal Horticultural Society). By far the easiest and quickest method is from offshoots. On a mature Staghorn Fern, you will see that offshoots develop on both the fertile and sterile leaf fronds. These offshoots are a young version of the plant attached to the mother plant by its own tiny root system. You can remove the offshoots by gently pulling or twisting them off.
If they do not come away easily, then it is too soon to remove them from the parent plant, and you should wait a little longer. Once you have an offshoot, you will need to plant it up straight away, whether that be mounted on sphagnum moss or in a bark and soil mix in a pot. If you don’t immediately supply it with its own growing medium, then it will quickly die. By removing the offshoots from the mature plant, you can both thin out the larger plant, making it less messy looking while achieving lots of new young Staghorn Ferns. For ease of doing, here is a good video to help you propagate the staghorn Fern plant by cutting
The other way to propagate this plant is from spores which are grown on the fertile reproductive fronds. They appear as small green lumps on the underside of the leaves early in the growing season. By late summer, they will have turned brown, and it is at this point that you can harvest the spores. One way to do this is to remove a frond from the plant and place it in a brown paper bag. The spores will release seeds by themselves, which you will find waiting at the bottom of the paper bag. Alternatively, you can scrape the underside of an attached frond with a knife to remove the seeds. You can then sow the seeds in a moist growing medium, covered with plastic and kept in a warm place. The seeds can take several months to germinate so this propagation method can take a lot of patience, with it being quite common to take a year to achieve plants which are strong enough to be potted on or mounted.
Let us know how your Staghorn Fern is doing in the comments below. We’ll also be glad to answer any questions. If you found this page useful, share it with other plant-lovers!
In nature, Staghorn Ferns affix themselves to trees, using the trunks as natural wall-mounts to show off their broad, pointed fronds to best effect. The beauty of this fern is that it doesn’t leach nutrients from the trees, so it flourishes just as easily on a wooden wall mount as it does on a tree. With leaves that mimic the shape of antlers, this plant makes an eye-catching addition to both rustic and contemporary decor. The aesthetic appeal, coupled with the ease of growing a Staghorn Fern, makes it an excellent choice for use in homes and office buildings.
You don’t need a green thumb to successfully grow a Staghorn Fern. Once you’ve hung your fern, all you need are three simple things: light, temperature, and adequate drainage.
- Light. Staghorn Ferns originated in the tropics, so they require light that mimics this region. Place your fern in an area that receives bright, indirect sunlight. Natural light is the only way to grow a healthy Staghorn Fern.
- Temperature. Staghorn Ferns can thrive indoors or out, but they grow best when kept in the range of 10 to 38 degrees Celsius. If growing one outside, bring it into the house when temperatures drop too low.
- Drainage. As an epiphyte plant, the Staghorn Fern thrives in open air. This means providing good drainage. Sphagnum moss makes an excellent planting media because it allows airflow to the roots of the plants, minimizing the risk of root rot in your staghorn fern. To water the plant, remove its mount from the wall and soak it face-down in a basin of water until the root-ball is soaked. Allow it to drip-dry before rehanging. You can also mist your fern on the wall, but make sure to let the root ball dry out between each watering. Water about once per week in the hotter months and every few weeks in the cooler months.
Besgrow cultivates the best growing substrates for a Staghorn Fern. Contact us to learn more about sphagnum moss and other New Zealand growing mediums.