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How to Care for your Staghorn Fern Plant

How to grow, water and mount your staghorn fern

Staghorn ferns are incredibly interesting plants as they can range from small sizes to HUGE specimens growing in the wild on the sides of trees. Staghorn ferns, also known as Platycerium bifurcatum, grow long and stately foliage in a unique form that looks like no other plant out there. While yes, they are ferns, the care of these plants is quite different to say a Boston or Maidenhair fern.

One of the main differences is that these ferns most often grow epiphytically attached to a tree instead of in soil on the ground. Because of this, their care can differ from the typical ferns we are used to growing but before we get into that, let’s learn a bit more about where they come from and how they grow in the wild.

Staghorn Ferns in the Wild

Platycerium Ferns are native to Africa, Australia and Southeast Asia and there are approximately 18 species in the genus. Platycerium bifurcatum is the species most commonly cultivated for retail sales in North America and is the species shown in the image above.

P. bifurcatum is native to New Guinea and Southern Australia and in those areas it grows in warm temperatures and bright light as it clings to the sides of trees. They absorb water through their fronds and roots as it rains and nutrients from debris that falls from the tree.

Mounting a Staghorn Fern

Staghorns or Platycerium can grow in a pot like any other houseplant, however, it’s fun to mount them and hang them on a wall to mimic how they naturally grow. This can be easily achieved with a mount such as a piece of cedar or even a teak cutting board. Choose a piece of wood that will be rot resistant – cork also works well. Cover the roots with sphagnum moss and secure with twine or fishing line. Then hang it on the wall for a sophisticated center piece that is sure to get people talking!

Leaves, Fronds and Sheilds?

Near the base of the plant you may notice a wide, circular ‘leaf’ shape. It may be green or it may dry and brown. This is the plant’s ‘shield frond’ and is normal – do not remove it. The longer green, strappy leaves are not really leaves at all – they are called the fertile fronds. New baby plants may sprout up and the new green shield fronds will cover over the older dry ones. It’s quite the interesting process!

Staghorn Fern Care:

Bright, indirect light will have this plant happy and growing fast. It will need more light than a standard terrestrial fern and can even adapt to periods of direct sun.

When the soil or mounting medium is dry, give this plant a good flush of water. If you have yours mounted on cork or cedar, allow it to soak in the sink or a tub of water until the moss is well saturated. Let it drip dry before hanging it back up.

If planted in soil, allow for a quick draining mixture by adding perlite or bark to your potting mix.

Fertilize with a gentle slow release fertilizer and be sure to follow instructions on the package.

These ferns are ideal for hanging on the wall in your bathroom – they love the extra humidity that comes from shower use. Hang them close to an east or west facing window and water consistently. You may need to increase watering frequency during the summer when the plant is getting more light / heat and decrease frequency in the winter when the plant is receiving less light / heat.

Propagating a Staghorn Fern

As these plants reproduce by releasing spores, you cannot propagate this plant by leaf cutting. It is best to wait until the plant has grown pups or offspring around the base and then separate them out as a separate plant.

Conclusion

Staghorn ferns are unique and stately plants that differ in care from other ferns. They require more light and less moisture than a regular fern and can be displayed in the home mounted on a piece of cork or wood because they grow in the wild as epiphytes on the side of a tree. If you haven’t tried a Staghorn fern in your home, why not give one a try!

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Heather Eigler
Heather Eigler

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