Staghorn Fern: Care and Growing Information

Staghorn Fern Platycerium superbum growing on tree

The staghorn fern – Platycerium: an extraordinarily unique, distinctive, attractive looking plant, perfect for those with a backyard greenhouse or cool enclosed porch.

Looking to grow something unusual, a true conversation piece… buy a staghorn plant.

Except from Platycerium andinum, native to South America, the genus, platycerium, is comprised of about 18 species, all found in natural tropical and temperate surroundings of Africa, Southeast Asia, Philippines, Australia and New Guinea.

When first learning staghorn fern care, take note as to how the staghorn grows in the wild. They attach themselves to tree trunks living as epiphytes.

This makes them outstanding subjects, which do best grown as a decorative hanging plant. They can be grown in pots but attain their true distinctive looks and beauty when grown as a hanging specimen.

An attractive display can be “created” in a greenhouse or protected area if plants (singular or multiple) are attached to a tree trunk as stand alone specimens.

Staghorn Plant Leaves – Fronds of Two Kinds

These ferns have two kinds of leaves (fronds): sterile ones which usually are rounded in outline, and fertile ones which are forked like the antlers of a reindeer. Both fronds are covered with sort of a gray furry down.

Staghorn Ferns

Fertile Fronds

It is on the fertile, forked fronds (some species are held erect and others are drooping) that the spores are produced.

The clusters of spores are visible as a large brown deposit, formed in masses on the underside of the leaves, usually towards the tips of the lobes. The spores are the reproductive bodies.

Sterile Staghorn Fronds

The sterile fronds also have important functions. They are at first green and succulent but ultimately they lose their moisture and become cinnamon colored and parchment like. In their early stage, in addition to performing the usual function of green leaves, they help to attach the plant to its support.

Later the usually flaring tops hold leaves and other debris which have fallen from the trees above and which ultimately decay and form humus from which the roots of the fern collect nutrients.

Staghorn Fern Basics Video

Staghorn Plant Care – 4 Requirements

Over the years I’ve grown many platycerium species successfully by providing four conditions for successful growth.

1 Staghorns do not like direct sunshine, but they need bright light for the best growth. Look for a location that can provide and good 4-7 hours of bright, direct light daily.

2These plants come from tropical areas of Southeast Asia, Philippines, Australia and Africa where humidity is high.
Try to grow plants in high humidity locations but do not mist the plant to maintain humidity.

Watering is best done (if possible) by submerging the entire root system in water. Water weekly in the summer, and once every ten days in the winter; if soaking fifteen minutes is enough. Add liquid plant food, rich in nitrogen, every 3rd watering during the growing season (spring and summer).

3Again pay attention to where these plants are native to. During the winter, plants should not be exposed to temperatures below 55 degrees.

4Stag horn ferns in their native habitat grow on trees. They can be grown in soil which is very rich but porous, (they are often sold this way at garden centers), but I generally do not recommend soil as a growing media.

However, the best results I’ve encountered is not growing in soil but planting or mounting platyceriums on a moist bed of sphagnum moss and fertilizing every other week using a balanced liquid food program.

Different Methods Growing Staghorn Plants

As we said above in point #4, stags can grown in pots.

I’ve witnessed staghorns thriving in a clay or plastic pots, using pure peat moss as the “soil”, when good drainage is present. Repotting is only required when the plant outgrows the pot.

Staghorn ferns real beauty shines when the plant is grown in a basket or box like those used for orchids, then displayed hanging as a stand alone specimen.

The basket or box is usually lined with sphagnum moss and the fern planted directly in the moss. Other times sphagnum moss lines the basket and the fern is planted in a well draining rich soil.

Stags can also be grown on a tree stump, “plaque” or piece of plywood where the fern is mounted on a bed of sphagnum moss and wired in place.

Here’s a Video on Planting a Staghorn in a Basket

Grooming

They don’t require grooming but old withered “fertile” leaves should be removed. The sheath-shaped “sterile” leaves should be removed when they fall off if lightly touched.

Propagating Staghorns

Staghorns can be propagated in several ways – side shoots sometimes called “pups” or from spores. The easiest, most common and popular method is from side shoots.

Side Shoots or “Pups”

Staghorn pups emerge from the base of the mother plant. Before removing “pups” for the mother plant they must have already formed and developed a root system. Small pups can be planted pots in pure peat moss.

Larger pups can be planted in a basket of sphagnum moss or mounted on a wood plaque on top of a bed of sphagnum.

Video: Dividing Pups and Staghorn Fern Mounting

Growing From Spores

Ferns do not flower or grow from seeds, they propagate from spores. Spores are those brown deposits on the underside of the antler-like leaves.

September to December are goods months for sowing spores.

As the fern spores are carefully removed, sow them in clean wet sphagnum (some cover the sphagnum with a thin layer of sand). I like to use clear sweater boxes.

Take a piece of glass, cover the propagating tray, placing it someplace dark, keeping temperatures around 78 degrees.

When new plants appear and have formed leaves, using a well draining starter mix (like 50%/50% peatmoss/perlite), plant the young plants into small pots. Fertilize once per week with a liquid plant food at 1/4 strength.

Video on Growing Ferns From Spores

Platycerium Species

Staghorn ferns (playceriums) of which there are about 18 species can grow to become very old and are not difficult to grow.

The leaves come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Fertile fronds can grow 2 – 3 feet in length.

  • Platycerium andinum
  • Platycerium alcicorne
  • Platycerium bifurcatum
  • Platycerium coronarium
  • Platycerium elephantotis
  • Platycerium ellisii
  • Platycerium grande
  • Platycerium hillii
  • Platycerium holttumii
  • Platycerium madagascariense
  • Platycerium quadridichotomum
  • Platycerium ridleyi
  • Platycerium stemaria
  • Platycerium superbum
  • Platycerium veitchii
  • Platycerium wallichii
  • Platycerium wandae
  • Platycerium willinkii

Plant Pests and Problems

Pests: Staghorn ferns are not attacked by many pests. If pests problems occur, it is often due to improper.

Aphids and scale insects can be removed by a careful spraying with an approved insecticide – try nature first. Repeat treatments may be required. Watch out for any sprayer stickers in the spray mix, they can damage the plant.

Problems: Droopy leaves are usually a result of insufficient water. DO NOT wipe off leaves even though they look dusty as the fronds have a furry gray down which helps slow transpiration.

Staghorn Buying Tips

If you can grow orchids and bromeliads, you can grown Staghorns. Before purchasing any platycerium, make sure you have a spot suitable to grow it. It can be brought at anytime of the year.

Depending on the species the “sterile leaves” may be papery and brown, but the Staghorn’s fertile leaves should be free of damage and the furry gray down intact.


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