Staghorn ferns look very much like deer or elk antlers, hence their unusual name. Native to Asia and Australia, the plants are part of the Polypodiaceae family—they grow slowly, but end up being quite large and impressive once mature. There are 17 species of Platycerium, but only one, the staghorn fern, is truly common in home cultivation.
Staghorn ferns were once considered difficult to grow, but today they are quite popular. These ferns are epiphytic, which means they grow mounted on plaques or other substrates. They have two distinct leaf forms—small, flat leaves (known as shield fronds) that cover the root ball structure and take up water and nutrients; and green, pronged antler fronds that emerge from this base and can reach up to three feet in length indoors (and larger in the wild).
|Botanical Name||Platycerium bifurcatum|
|Common Name||Staghorn fern, elkhorn fern|
|Mature Size||2–3 ft. tall, 2–3 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Partial shade|
|Hardiness Zones||9–12 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Asia, Australia|
Staghorn Fern Care
Staghorn ferns make for tons of eye-catching visual interest, not only because of the beauty of the ferns themselves but also due to the unusual way they're typically grown. Because staghorn ferns are often mounted on wood planks and hung on the way, they make for a great way to add a bit of green decor to your room or gallery wall scene.
The best part: For something so stunning, they're not terribly difficult to cultivate, either. The key in helping your staghorn fern thrive is to mimic its natural, sub-tropical conditions as best as you can. Dapples of sunlight (they're used to growing on the bark of trees beneath a canopy of leaves) and lots of moisture will be two essential ingredients to a happy, healthy staghorn fern.
Staghorn ferns prefer to be kept in a location that boasts consistent, shaded light. That being said, they can handle more sunlight if given enough water, warmth, and humidity. Just be cautious about allowing any direct rays to hit the fragile fronds, as they can burn easily.
Though young ferns may be started in a moist traditional potting mixture, staghorn ferns should be mounted once they progress towards maturity. Staghorn ferns are epiphytes, growing on the sides of trees or other plants in the wild, and will therefore thrive in similar conditions in your home. To mount, you'll need a starting lump of peat, compost, moss, or other organic matter to act as the base, but beyond that should not need additional soil.
Proper watering is an essential component of a staghorn fern's success. They'll need frequent watering, but the base should be allowed to dry out in between—about once a week in warmer climates or during the summer months, and once every two to three weeks in cooler months. For easy watering, remove your fern and its mounting from the wall (or wherever it's hung) and soak in a sink filled with water for 10–20 minutes, or until the roots are fully saturated. Allow to drip dry before rehanging.
If you notice the fronds have begun to brown or blacked towards the base, it's likely your plant is being over watered. Likewise, if the tips of the fronds begin to brown or wilt, it probably needs to be watered more frequently.
Temperature and Humidity
If there's one thing to remember, it's that staghorn ferns love humidity. Though more mature staghorn can survive briefly freezing temperatures, they thrive in warm, humid conditions. Care should be taken to maintain those conditions (at least above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and below 100 degrees Fahrenheit), especially when they're young.
To increase the humidity around your plant, try placing it in one of the more naturally humid areas of your home, such as the bathroom or kitchen. If that doesn't work, increase the humidity around the plant by using a small-scale humidifier or spritzing the plant periodically.
To promote increased growth in your staghorn fern, you can feed it monthly with a well-balanced, water-soluble fertilizer—this is best done during the spring and summer, when the fern experiences active growth. Fertilizing frequency can slow to every other month during the fall and winter.
Propagating Staghorn Fern
Staghorn ferns can be propagated by spore or division. Large, mature staghorn can be easily divided into smaller plants, and even small "chunks" that include a leaf and a bit of root ball can be potted individually. Make sure new divisions are kept warm and moist until they are growing independently. Don't get discouraged if newly-cut divisions take a little time to root (or if it takes a few tries)—propagating ferns takes some practice, and even experienced gardeners don't always find it easy.
Common Pests and Diseases
Staghorn ferns are relatively pest-free on their own but can be afflicted with spider mites if nearby houseplants come down with the pest. More frequently, you'll see black spot on a staghorn fern, directly related to too much humidity or traveling spores. To treat the fern, use neem oil or another natural fungicide.