How to Grow and Care for Staghorn Ferns


Updated: 29 Oct, 2023

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The staghorn fern, named for its striking resemblance to deer or elk antlers, is a captivating botanical specimen native to Asia and Australia. Belonging to the Polypodiaceae family, these plants exhibit slow but steady growth, ultimately attaining an impressive size and stature upon maturity. While there exist 17 species of Platycerium, it is the staghorn fern that prevails as the most commonly cultivated variety in domestic settings.

Despite their reputation for being somewhat challenging to cultivate, the allure of their distinctiveness and the increasing availability of these ferns have propelled them into the spotlight among avid growers seeking to introduce an unconventional touch to their indoor plant collections. Staghorn ferns, classified as epiphytic, thrive by anchoring themselves onto other plants or objects for support, without imposing any parasitic tendencies. They feature two distinctive leaf forms—the protective, flat shield fronds that enshroud the root ball structure, responsible for absorbing water and nutrients, and the verdant, pronged antler fronds that emerge from this base, capable of extending up to an impressive 3 feet in length indoors (and even larger in their natural habitats).

Read also: How to Grow and Care for Maidenhair Fern Indoors

Common NameStaghorn fern, elkhorn fern
Botanical NamePlatycerium bifurcatum
FamilyPolypodiaceae
Plant TypeFern
Mature Size2–3 ft. tall, 2–3 ft. wide
Sun ExposurePartial
Soil TypeAcidic
Hardiness Zones9–12 (USDA)
Native AreaAsia, Australia

What Is a Staghorn Fern?

A staghorn fern, scientifically known as Platycerium, is a unique and visually captivating type of fern. What sets it apart is its distinctive growth pattern and appearance, which resembles the antlers of deer or elk. Native to regions of Asia and Australia, staghorn ferns belong to the Polypodiaceae family.

These ferns are epiphytic in nature, meaning they grow on other plants or objects for support, but they are not parasitic. They have two distinct types of leaves: shield fronds, which are small and flat, covering and protecting the root ball while absorbing water and nutrients, and antler fronds, which are green and pronged, emerging from the base and extending up to 3 feet in length indoors (and even larger in the wild).

Staghorn Fern Care

Staghorn ferns are a visual marvel, captivating not only for their inherent beauty but also for the unconventional manner in which they are typically grown. Mounted on wooden planks and adorning walls, they serve as exceptional elements for infusing a touch of greenery into your living space or gallery wall setup.

Despite their breathtaking appearance, cultivating staghorn ferns is surprisingly manageable. The key to nurturing a thriving staghorn fern lies in recreating its natural sub-tropical habitat as closely as possible. Providing dappled sunlight (as they are accustomed to growing on the bark of trees beneath a leafy canopy) and maintaining ample moisture are the essential ingredients for a contented and flourishing staghorn fern.

Light

Staghorn ferns thrive in locations with consistent, filtered light. However, they can tolerate more sunlight if provided with sufficient water, warmth, and humidity. Exercise caution to prevent direct sunlight from reaching the delicate fronds, as they are susceptible to burning.

Soil and Mounting

While young ferns may start in a moist traditional potting mix, as they mature, staghorn ferns fare best when mounted. These epiphytic plants naturally grow on trees or other vegetation in the wild, and they will flourish in similar conditions indoors. To mount, use a base of peat, compost, moss, or other organic material. Additional soil is typically unnecessary.

Secure the fern with its base embedded in the chosen organic material, affixing it to a wooden board or bark slab using a fishing line or wire. The mounted fern can then be hung on a wall. As new fronds develop, they will gradually conceal the fastening material while covering the older fronds. As time passes, the mass may grow large and heavy, potentially necessitating remounting on a larger slab.

Watering

Proper watering is crucial for the success of a staghorn fern. They require regular watering, but allow the base to dry out between waterings—approximately once a week in warmer climates or during the summer, and once every two to three weeks in cooler seasons. To simplify watering, remove the fern and its mounting from the wall (or wherever it’s hung) and soak it in a sink filled with water for 10 to 20 minutes, or until the roots are thoroughly saturated. Allow it to drip dry before rehanging.

If you observe browning or blackening of the fronds near the base, it’s likely that your plant is receiving too much water. Similarly, if the tips of the fronds begin to brown or droop, it likely needs more frequent watering.

Temperature and Humidity

Humidity is a key factor for staghorn ferns. Although more mature specimens can endure brief exposure to freezing temperatures, they thrive in warm, humid environments. It’s important to maintain these conditions (at least above 50 degrees Fahrenheit and below 100 degrees Fahrenheit), especially when they are young.

To enhance humidity around your plant, consider placing it in naturally more humid areas of your home, like the bathroom or kitchen. If this isn’t feasible, you can increase humidity using a small humidifier or by misting the plant regularly.

Fertilization

To encourage robust growth in your staghorn fern, feed it with a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer once a month. This is most effective during the spring and summer when the fern is actively growing. During the fall and winter, you can reduce the frequency to every other month. Refer to the product label for the recommended dosage.

Types of Staghorn Fern

The Platycerium genus encompasses approximately 18 fern species, alongside Platycerium bifurcatum, that are commonly referred to as staghorn ferns. Nevertheless, the remaining species are generally more challenging to cultivate and are typically reserved for dedicated enthusiasts or collectors. Some of the more well-known species include:

  • P. veitchii (silver staghorn or elkhorn fern): A smaller, slower-growing fern with blue-green fronds. It exhibits greater tolerance to sunlight, making it possible for casual growers to achieve success with this plant.
  • P. hillii (stiff or green staghorn fern): Another compact species, featuring broad, vibrant green fronds measuring 2 to 3 feet in length.
  • P. andinum (American or Blake staghorn fern): Despite its common name, this Amazon native boasts narrow, 5-foot-long fronds, distinguishing it from other species.
  • P. coronarium (crown staghorn fern): This plant produces long, forked, pendulous leaves that make for a striking display when hung from a basket.
  • P. stemaria (triangle staghorn fern): A visually arresting staghorn fern characterized by leaves formed with distinct deep V shapes, reminiscent of layered, draped horns.
  • P. elephantosis (elephant ear staghorn fern): This species grows wide, ridged leaves, reaching up to 4 feet in width.

Propagating Staghorn Fern

Propagating staghorn ferns through division is a straightforward process:

Division Process:
Large, fully grown staghorn ferns can be divided into smaller sections, each consisting of a leaf and a portion of the root ball.

Planting:
Plant these divided sections separately in pots filled with a mixture of peat and compost.

Care and Maintenance:
Ensure that the newly divided sections are kept in a warm and consistently moist environment until they establish independent growth.

Patience and Persistence:
Be patient and don’t be disheartened if the newly cut divisions take some time to develop roots, or if it requires a few attempts. Propagating ferns is a skill that improves with practice, and even experienced gardeners may face challenges in this process.

Best Uses

Staghorn ferns are versatile plants that can be used in a variety of ways to enhance both indoor and outdoor spaces. Here are some of the best uses for staghorn ferns:

  • Wall Art and Decor: Mounting staghorn ferns on wooden boards or bark slabs and hanging them on walls creates a unique and visually striking piece of living art.
  • Vertical Gardens: Incorporating staghorn ferns into vertical gardens or green walls adds texture and a touch of the exotic to any vertical space.
  • Indoor Gardens: Placing staghorn ferns in decorative pots or planters can bring a touch of nature to interior spaces, adding a distinctive and captivating element to your indoor garden.
  • Hanging Baskets: Staghorn ferns with pendulous fronds can be hung from the ceiling or a hook, creating an eye-catching display that adds a dynamic element to any room.
  • Outdoor Landscaping: In warmer climates, staghorn ferns can be used as striking focal points in garden beds or as an element in tropical landscaping designs.
  • Botanical Installations: Incorporating staghorn ferns into larger botanical installations, such as terrariums or living sculptures, can create a captivating and dynamic display.
  • Conservatories and Greenhouses: Staghorn ferns thrive in the warm, humid environments typically found in conservatories and greenhouses, making them an excellent addition to these spaces.
  • Naturalistic Displays: In naturalistic or wild garden designs, staghorn ferns can be positioned on rocks, tree branches, or other natural elements to mimic their native epiphytic growth habits.
  • Educational and Botanical Gardens: Staghorn ferns can be showcased in educational settings or botanical gardens to highlight their unique growth patterns and conservation significance.
  • Living Gifts: Potting a staghorn fern and gifting it to a plant enthusiast or nature lover provides a distinctive and memorable present that stands out from traditional houseplants.

The adaptability and striking appearance of staghorn ferns make them an excellent choice for a wide range of creative and aesthetic applications in both indoor and outdoor settings.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Staghorn ferns, like any other plant, can face their share of pests and diseases. Here are some common ones to watch out for:

Common Pests:

Aphids: These small, soft-bodied insects can cluster on the undersides of leaves, sucking sap from the plant. They can be controlled with insecticidal soap or a strong spray of water.

Scale Insects: These pests appear as small, flat, round or oval bumps on stems and fronds. They feed on plant sap and can be controlled with insecticidal soap or neem oil.

Mealybugs: These tiny, white, cotton-like insects congregate on leaves and stems, also feeding on plant sap. They can be removed manually or controlled with insecticidal soap.

Spider Mites: These microscopic pests feed on plant fluids and create fine webbing on the plant. They can be controlled with insecticidal soap or by increasing humidity around the plant.

Common Diseases:

Fungal Diseases: This can include issues like root rot, leaf spot, and powdery mildew. To prevent fungal diseases, ensure good air circulation around the plant, avoid overwatering, and promptly remove infected leaves.

Bacterial Diseases: These can cause issues like bacterial leaf spot or bacterial wilt. Remove affected leaves and ensure that you’re not overwatering, as excess moisture can promote bacterial growth.

Viral Diseases: Viral infections can cause symptoms like yellowing, stunting, or distortion of leaves. Unfortunately, there is no cure for viral diseases, so prevention and sanitation are key.

Nutrient Deficiencies: Inadequate levels of essential nutrients can lead to problems like yellowing leaves, poor growth, or leaf deformities. Ensure your staghorn fern is receiving the appropriate nutrients through balanced fertilization.

Prevention and Management:

Regular Inspection: Routinely check your plant for any signs of pests or diseases. Early detection can help prevent the issue from spreading.

Quarantine New Plants: If you’re introducing a new plant to your collection, isolate it for a period to ensure it’s not carrying any pests or diseases.

Proper Watering: Avoid overwatering, as excessive moisture can lead to fungal and bacterial issues. Ensure proper drainage and allow the base to dry out between waterings.

Prune Infected Areas: If you notice any affected leaves or stems, promptly remove them to prevent the spread of disease.

Use Natural Predators: Introduce beneficial insects like ladybugs or lacewings to help control pest populations.

By being vigilant and practicing good plant care, you can help keep your staghorn fern healthy and thriving.

Common Problems With Staghorn Ferns

The primary challenge often lies in determining the ideal watering regimen for your staghorn fern. If you observe browning or blackening of the fronds near the base, it’s a sign that your plant may be receiving too much water. Conversely, if the tips of the fronds start to brown or wilt, it likely indicates a need for more frequent watering.

What is a staghorn fern?

A staghorn fern is a type of epiphytic fern known for its distinctive antler-like fronds. It belongs to the Platycerium genus and is native to Asia and Australia.

How do I care for a staghorn fern?

Staghorn ferns thrive in filtered light, well-draining soil, and high humidity. They can be mounted on wooden boards or grown in pots filled with peat and compost. Proper watering, temperature, and occasional fertilization are also important.

Can staghorn ferns be grown indoors?

Yes, staghorn ferns can be grown indoors. They do well in areas with filtered or indirect light. Hanging them on a wall or placing them in a spot with bright, indirect sunlight is recommended.

How often should I water my staghorn fern?

Staghorn ferns require regular watering, but it’s important to allow the base to dry out between waterings. This typically means watering about once a week in warmer climates or during the summer, and every two to three weeks in cooler months.

Can staghorn ferns be propagated?

Yes, staghorn ferns can be propagated through division. Large, mature ferns can be divided into smaller sections, each containing a leaf and a portion of the root ball. These sections can then be planted individually in pots filled with peat and compost.

What are common pests and diseases that affect staghorn ferns?

Common pests include aphids, scale insects, mealybugs, and spider mites. Fungal diseases like root rot and powdery mildew, bacterial diseases, and viral infections can also affect staghorn ferns.

How can I increase humidity for my staghorn fern?

You can increase humidity around your staghorn fern by placing it in naturally more humid areas of your home, such as the bathroom or kitchen. Alternatively, you can use a small humidifier or mist the plant periodically.

Can staghorn ferns be grown outdoors?

Yes, staghorn ferns can be grown outdoors in suitable climates. They thrive in tropical or subtropical regions with high humidity and filtered light. They can be mounted on trees or other structures, or grown in pots filled with a well-draining potting mix.

Conclusion

Staghorn ferns are captivating plants known for their distinctive antler-like fronds. Native to Asia and Australia, they belong to the Platycerium genus and can be a unique addition to any plant enthusiast’s collection.

While staghorn ferns may require some specific care, including proper lighting, watering, and humidity levels, their striking appearance and versatility make them a rewarding plant to cultivate. Whether grown indoors or outdoors, these ferns can thrive with a little attention and patience.


Mary Lloyster

Mary Lloyster

Mary, the ultimate oracle of indoor gardening! With years of experience and a flourishing indoor expo, Mary has become our go-to expert for all things related to house plants and indoor gardening. Despite her background in Political Science, Mary has discovered a delightful way to blend her full-time job with a touch of relaxation through indoor gardening. Now, she eagerly shares her wisdom and experiences with our readers on a daily basis. If you have any inquiries about house plants, indoor gardening techniques, or caring tips, don't hesitate to leave a comment for Mary in the designated section below!

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