Care of staghorn 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.

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 and learn about the care of staghorn fern 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 earning the term epiphytic ferns.

This makes them outstanding subjects, which do best grown as a decorative hanging plant. They can be grown in pots but like the rabbit’s foot fern 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.

You may like Dicksonia antarctica aka Tasmanian Tree Fern

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 fronds which are forked like the antlers of a reindeer. Both fronds are covered with sort of a gray furry down.

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

How To Care For A Staghorn Fern

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

#1 – Stag horns 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 sunlight daily.

#2 – These 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).

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

#4 – Stag 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 complete (20-20-20) liquid plant fertilizer program.

Different Methods Growing Staghorn Plants

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

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

The real beauty of the staghorn fern shines when the plant is grown in a hanging 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.

Staghorn ferns 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


Staghorn ferns 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.

Related Reading: Ferns and other indoor plants for the Bathroom

Staghorn Fern Propagation

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 fern 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 Staghorn Ferns 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), also called elkhorn ferns 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

Fertilizing Staghorn Ferns

Stag horn ferns of nature get ample nutrients from their surroundings. On the other hand, those living indoors or in an urban setting relies on a thin amount of resources. Due to this, you may need to apply staghorn fern fertilizers to ensure growth and health of your mount staghorn fern plants.

Like most plants, elk horn fern requires feeding during the active growing season. The best food for them are water-soluble fertilizers.

Pests and Problems Of Staghorn Ferns

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 careful spraying with an approved insecticide – try natural first. Repeat treatments may be required.

I would never add any type of wetting agent, surfactant or sprayer stickers into the spray mix, they can clog the “pores” and 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 Fern Buying Tips

If you can grow orchids and bromeliads, you can grow Staghorns. Before purchasing any platycerium, make sure you have a spot suitable to grow it. It can be bought 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.


Plant Bio

This very special staghorn (Platycerium bifurcatum) is back where it belongs in the popularity stakes! Give this shade lover a spot out of the sun and spray regularly with water. The staghorn grows naturally in tropical rainforests over the whole world where they grow very large. But for us in our living room, it remains smaller, it can reach 80-100 cm across after a number of years. 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.

Stag horns fern grows best in bright, indirect light. Strong summer sun will damage its fronds. Water thoroughly, allowing the medium to dry out between waterings. Water potted plants from below for 15 minutes. For mounted ferns, plunge the root portion into room-temperature water for 15 minutes, then drip-dry. It is better to err on the dry side — mature plants are more tolerant of drought than soggy medium, which can cause root rot. Stag Horns prefer moist air. Dry indoor air will cause brown tips. Mist the fronds regularly with room-temperature water to keep the humidity high. For soil, Sphagnum moss or medium specially made for epiphytes such as bromeliad or orchid mix, are preferred. Feed monthly in summer with a balanced foliar fertilizer or add fertilizer to water and plunge the rootball portion into the water for several minutes.

The staghorn fern stands out in any room as a majestic piece of living art. Equally rugged and elegant, it lends a modern feel and textural depth to any space thanks to the combined efforts of dense moss, waxy green fronds, and the buttery hues of Birchwood.

Our easy to follow guide and ready-to-assemble mounting kit makes the staghorn fern a striking, all-vegan trophy to showcase in your home or bestow upon plant-loving friends as an unforgettable gift.

Not Your Average Fern

The staghorn is noticeably different from other plants, and even other ferns, due to its distinct anatomical make-up. It doesn’t have flowers and seeds, typical components of plant reproduction, but instead releases microscopic spores resembling brown fuzz into the air which become new plants, similar to the way fungi and moss reproduce. The precious spores are stored in the fern’s fronds, which are often mistaken for leaves.

Outside of their natural habitat, staghorn ferns suffer if left in the potting containers they are sold in. Much like air plants, stags are a tropical species called epiphytes that grow on trees or other plants. Learning to mount your staghorn is less of an elective and more of an imperative in plant care in order to provide optimum conditions for its growth.

Stags are nothing if not resourceful. They store up water and nutrients not through their roots but through their fronds, using the root ball as an anchor instead of a food supply. Staghorn ferns can be spotted in the wild growing daringly on top of trees or inside of their crevices, but don’t worry—recreating an ideal home for them indoors isn’t as hard as you might think.

Handle with Care

There are five key components to mounting a staghorn fern at home. First, you need a mature stag, green sheet moss, twine or fishing line, a sturdy wooden board, and hardware for securing the fern to the board and hanging onto the wall.
Our kit comes with hardware pre-fixed onto the wooden plaque for structural support.
It’s important to be gentle with your stag throughout the mounting process. Hold the fern at its base, where fronds meet soil, as you remove it from the container.
Keeping your grip soft but secure, slowly break away the bottom third of the soil from the plant and its roots.
Set the stag’s root ball in the center of the wooden plaque and position the plant with its antler fronds (the longer ones) at the top, facing upward. Each plant is unique in its shape and the direction of its protruding fronds, so you can adjust its placement to suit your taste.
Dampen the underside of the sheet moss lightly with water and wrap around base of the stag’s root ball until the roots and dirt are fully covered.
Once fully wrapped, tie one end of the twine or fishing line around a nail and stretch it across the base of the fern to the nail on the opposite side.
Criss cross the twine over the moss, carefully looping around the head of each nail until your stag and its blanket of moss are secured to the plaque.
Now you’re ready to hang your staghorn!

How to Keep Your Stag Happy

Stags thrive in bright, indirect light and require a combination of misting and watering to mimic their natural habitat. Hang your mounted plant in a bright room away from harsh rays and water about once a week.

To water: remove the plaque from the wall and place into a sink or shower. Water or soak the plant until the root ball is saturated—we’re talking a fully soaked stag. Allow it to drip dry before hanging it back onto the wall.

Because stags absorb water and nutrients through their fronds, misting your plant in-between waterings is a great way to keep it happy, using a spray bottle that produces a fine mist. In hotter, dry months, water and mist once a week. In cooler months, you may find that you only need to soak your stag once every two or three weeks.

It’s a bit of trial and error to start, depending on the climate of your home, so adjust your watering schedule as needed. If the fronds appear wilted and brown, up the ante; if they become brown or black at the base, you’re watering too much. It’s important to note that the bottom shield fronds will eventually turn brown and dry up as your stag matures. Don’t worry, this is normal.

Becoming a plant whisperer is all about listening to your plants and responding to their needs. As you learn, you’ll find yourself growing right along with them!

Don showed how to mount a staghorn on a wall. This particular plant had been growing on a dead tree trunk, but had fallen off.

Elk or stag?

Don used a staghorn to demonstrate the mounting process, but an elkhorn could be substituted equally well. The difference between the two is that the staghorn (Platycerium superbum) has a single rosette of foliage whereas the elkhorn (P. bifurcatum) has multiple rosettes.

It is not a good idea to mount staghorns or elkhorns on living trees unless they are mounted on a board first, otherwise they will moisten the bark, causing fungus decay and insect damage to the tree. Winding wire around the trunk can kill the tree, so it is best to use coach screws through the tree when attaching the board.

Mounting on a timber frame
  1. Trim the plant into a flattish shape which can be nailed to the piece of wood. A serrated kitchen knife is fine for this. Trim off any broken pieces and uneven root growth but be careful not to cut off any rosettes of foliage, as these are the centres of growth. Any green material which has been trimmed from the plant can be mounted as new plants.
  2. Choose hardwood for the frame, as softwood will rot. To make the framework, we used a fence paling cut into five pieces. Three horizontal pieces of paling are nailed (or screwed) onto two vertical backing pieces.
  3. Thin (under 10cm) elk or staghorns can be nailed to the frame with galvanised flat-headed nails, nailed through a bottle top. Otherwise, use a roll of plastic-coated wire (or coathanger wire), threaded around the plant and poked through drill holes. Fasten the wire tightly at the back of the frame using pliers (the plant will not be damaged), but avoid any of the buds.
Mounting on a wall

You can attach the plant to a timber frame (as above) and then mount it on a wall, but in our segment Don mounted a staghorn straight onto the wall, as per the following steps.

Note: As the staghorn is being mounted above the damp course mounting it directly on the wall could cause dampness, so take this into consideration when you position the plant and monitor the wall for damp.

  1. Decide exactly where on the wall the stag is to be mounted. It is important not to position it too high, otherwise it will not have room to grow and it will be difficult for you to water and feed the plant.
  2. Measure the width of the stag across the base, then mark corresponding points on the wall for the drill holes.
  3. Using a masonry drill bit, drill two holes in the wall. Insert a masonry anchor (such as a Dynabolt), then tightly screw in two eye bolts. (Tip: before drilling, measure the drill bit against the masonry anchor, then put some gaffer tape around the drill bit to mark the required drilling depth.
  4. Take some plastic-coated wire (or coathanger wire), and run it through one eye bolt and attach it firmly to the other eye bolt. (Tip: use a long piece of wire, so that it will be easier to tighten later.)
  5. With the help of a strong friend, lift the stag or elkhorn into position. Loop the wire around the brown or dead part of the plant (wire around any green parts could kill the plant.)
  6. Tighten the wire so that the plant is fixed securely to the wall.

After your stag or elk is mounted

  1. You’ll notice that the dead fronds at the back of the fern curl over to form a convenient basket shape. Fill the basket with sphagnum moss, compost, tea leaves, banana skins, or whatever organic material happens to be lying around.
  2. Water the fern well. Don used a mixture of 50% Nitrosol and 50% Seasol, diluted as normal. This mixture gives plants a boost: the Nitrosol encourages foliage growth and the Seasol aids root development.

Further reading

Staghorns and ferns are featured in the April edition of the Burke’s Backyard magazine, on sale at newsagents for $4.60.

How Fast Do Staghorn Ferns Grow During the Summer?

Naturally grown as epiphytes, staghorn ferns (Platycerium spp.) harmlessly cling to tree branches as they hang downward in the canopy’s shade. These bushy evergreens grow slowly, up to 4 feet tall and wide over a period of 10 to 20 years. Although summer is their most active growth and reproductive period, several environmental factors affect their normal growth rate. Staghorn ferns are hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 through 11.

Light Exposure

Summer growth is most rapid when your fern is exposed to indirect sunlight, such as under a shady tree or potted indoors near a north-facing window. Radiant sunlight allows the fern to maximize its photosynthesis processes without heat stress or sunscald. Mild temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit during the day stimulate summer growth. Avoid heavy shade, however, because staghorns react with stunted growth from lack of energy production. Actively photosynthesizing leaves, called foliar fronds, droop downward as basal fronds attach to a substrate, such as a tree trunk. Bright, indirect sunlight encourages summer foliage growth along with ample water trapped among the basal fronds for root absorption.

Roots and Medium

Your staghorn does not grow well during the summer in improper potting medium. In fact, fern roots largely absorb nutrients and moisture from the surrounding air. To pot your fern correctly, use sphagnum peat moss formed into a slight mound. The fern’s bud should be pressed into the moss while the basal fronds touch the medium slightly along the sides. Only water the mound when it has dried throughout — peat moss holds moisture longer than other mediums. You do not want to create a soggy environment in the middle of the container. Healthy roots in a proper medium encourage vigorous summer growth.


Staghorn ferns thrive in high humidity — they originate from tropical regions. Summer growth is easily stunted if air remains dry near the fern, especially when grown indoors. Use a spray bottle to mist the fern periodically. Alternatively, fill a container saucer with gravel and water. Place your container fern on the gravel to create a miniature high humidity climate around the pot while keeping the water from soaking the medium through the drainage holes. Although high humidity is key, soggy root conditions leads to rot and fungi proliferation. Your potting medium should be damp, but not wet.

Reproductive Activity

Staghorns do not produce flowers and seeds, but use spores to reproduce. Summer’s warmth stimulates spore production. Because the fern directs energy toward reproduction, summer vegetative growth can be slightly hindered — the plant can only generate and use a certain amount of energy each day. Once spore production is complete, staghorns can redirect their energy into foliage and root growth before cooler fall and winter weather arrives.

Watering A Staghorn Fern: Water Requirements For Staghorn Ferns

Once rare, exotic plants found only in tropical forests, staghorn ferns are now widely available as unique, dramatic plants for the home and garden. Staghorn ferns are epiphytes, which naturally grow on trees or rocks with specialized roots that attach to their host and absorb water from humidity in the tropical regions in which they grow.

As home and garden plants, they are often mounted on wood or rock, or hung in wire baskets to simulate their natural growing conditions. Natively, they grow in areas with high humidity and frequent periods of rain. In the home or landscape, these conditions may be hard to mock, and regularly watering a staghorn fern may be necessary. Continue reading to learn how to water staghorn ferns.

Staghorn Fern Water Requirements

Staghorn ferns have large flat basal fronds that grow in a shield-like fashion over the plant’s roots. When a staghorn fern grows wildly in the crotch of a tropical tree or on a rock ledge, these basal fronds help collect water and fallen plant debris from tropical rains. In time, the plant debris breaks down, helping contain moisture around the plant’s roots and releasing nutrients as it decomposes.

In addition to this, a staghorn fern’s basal fronds absorb more water and nutrients from the humid air. Staghorn ferns also produce upright, unique fronds which resemble stag horns. The primary function of these upright fronds are reproduction, not water absorption.

In the home or garden, staghorn fern water requirements may be higher, especially in times of drought and low humidity. These garden plants are usually mounted to something with sphagnum moss and/or other organic materials under the basal fronds and around the roots. This material helps retain moisture.

When watering a mounted staghorn fern, water can be provided directly to the sphagnum moss slowly with a long narrow-tipped watering can. A slow trickle will allow the moss or other organic material to become fully saturated.

How and When to Water a Staghorn Fern

In young staghorn ferns, the basal fronds will be green in color, but as the plant matures, they may become brown and appear wilted. This is natural and not a concern, and these brown fronds should not be removed from the plant. The basal fronds are essential for meeting the water requirements for staghorn ferns.

Growers often thoroughly mist the basal fronds of staghorn ferns once a week. Spray bottles may be adequate for small indoor staghorn ferns, but large outdoor plants may need to be watered with a gentle, misting hose head. Staghorn ferns should be watered when the upright plants look slightly wilted.

While brown, dry tissue is normal on staghorn fern’s basal fronds, black or gray spots are not normal and may indicate over watering. If saturated too often, a staghorn fern’s upright fronds may also show signs of fungal rot and spore production may be disrupted. Browning along the tips of these upright fronds is normal though, as it is actually the fern’s spores.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *