How to hang a staghorn fern in a basket?

Chained Staghorn Fern Plants: Supporting A Staghorn Fern With A Chain

Staghorn ferns are large epiphytic evergreens in zones 9-12. In their natural environment, they grow on large trees and absorb moisture and nutrients from the air. When staghorn ferns reach maturity, they can weigh up to 300 lbs. During storms, these heavy plants can fall out of their tree hosts. Some nurseries in Florida actually specialize in saving these fallen ferns or collect them to propagate smaller plants from them. Whether attempting to save a fallen staghorn fern or supporting a store bought one, hanging a staghorn fern with chains may be the best option.

Staghorn Fern Chain Support

Small staghorn fern plants are oftentimes hung from tree limbs or porches in wire baskets. Sphagnum moss is placed in the basket and no soil or potting medium is used. In time, a happy staghorn fern plant will produce pups that may cover the whole basket structure. As these staghorn fern clusters grow, they will become heavier and heavier.

Staghorn ferns that are mounted on wood will also grow heavier and multiply with age, causing them to be remounted on larger and heavier pieces of wood. With mature plants weighing between 100-300 lbs, supporting a staghorn ferns with a chain soon becomes the sturdiest option.

How to Hang a Staghorn Fern with Chains

Staghorn fern plants grow best in part shade to shady locations. Because they get most of their water and nutrients from the air or fallen plant matter, they are often hung on limbs or in the crotches of trees much like they grow in their native environments.

Chained staghorn fern plants should only be hung from large tree limbs that can support the weight of the plant and the chain. It is also important to protect the tree limb from chain damage by placing the chain in a section of rubber hose or foam rubber pipe insulation so that the chain is not touching the tree bark.

In time, rope can become weathered and weak, so steel chain is preferred for large hanging plants – ¼ inch thick galvanized steel chain is usually used for chained staghorn fern plants.

There are a few different ways of hanging a staghorn ferns with chains. Chains can be attached to wire or metal hanging baskets with ‘S’ hooks. Chains can be attached to the wood on wood mounted staghorn ferns. Some experts suggest making a basket out of the chain itself by attaching smaller pieces of chain together to form a spherical shape.

Other experts suggest making a T-shaped staghorn fern mount from ½-inch wide galvanized steel male-threaded pipes that connect with female threaded T-shaped pipe connectors. The pipe mount is then slid through the root ball like an upside down ‘T’, and a female threaded eye bolt is attached to the top end of the pipe to hang the mount from a chain.

How you hang your plant is entirely up to you. As long as the chain is strong enough to support the staghorn fern as it grows, it should be fine.

Growing plants in open-topped pots filled with a fibre-rich potting mix is a gardening tradition that dates back at least as far as classical times. The practice is so ubiquitous one might think pot culture is the only way to grow plants at home. However, for several tricky-to-grow species, simply ditching the pots and growing them via others means, which more closely replicate their native environments, will give you better results, both horticulturally and aesthetically.

Let’s start with the architectural fronds of staghorn ferns, Platycerium. These can be a real challenge to keep alive in pots because their shield fronds cover the entire surface of the compost and often even the pot itself, like a wrap of green cling film. How do you water a plant when you can’t get the spout near the compost? Even when watered via the immersion method (dunking the whole thing in a bucket) the plastic pot can seal in so much moisture the delicate roots then rot.

By replicating their natural habitat on the branches of rainforest trees this is made simpler. Take a shop-bought staghorn fern plant out of its pot and remove a third to half of the lower roots. Wrap the remaining root ball in wet moss (available in florists – or in my case, the roof of a mate’s garage) and tie it to a plank or branch of wood with fishing wire. This can then be hung on a wall for a striking room decoration. I now have four different species growing like this. To water, just dunk the whole thing in a bucket once a week for 10 minutes and leave to dry fully before hanging it back up. This treatment gives these forest-tree dwellers the moist, but sharply drained conditions they crave, but which are almost impossible to replicate in a pot.

An alternative way to mimic these conditions is with ferns and orchids grown on the pau de barro (literally “stick of clay”) method common in Brazil. Here a non-glazed (this bit is crucial) terracotta urn or jar is used. As the water seeps through the porous walls of the urn, it creates a constantly moist but well-drained surface, perfect for orchids, forest cacti and ferns. These are initially “planted” by strapping their bare roots to the moist surface with twine, but if kept happy these plants will soon send out colonising roots to envelop the whole surface. They look great strung up like a hanging basket or simply sitting in a waterproof saucer. To water, just keep the central reservoir of the jar topped up.

Finally, here’s a hybrid solution. I love nepenthes, the tropical pitcher plants. But giving them the high air humidity they need to keep their insect-eating traps can be tough in the average living room. However, if you have a fish tank, strapping the roots of a small specimen to a piece of aquarium driftwood that breaks the surface – as I showed with staghorn ferns – will give them all the ambient humidity they desire. The trick is to place the root ball close enough to the water surface so they become self-irrigating as they use up the tank water, but not so close that their traps dangle into the water itself. The younger a plant you start with and the larger the tree branch, the better to create a real statement look.

Email James at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Botanygeek

Staghorn Ferns 101

Staghorn ferns are called Platyceriums. They are Old World tropics native to Africa, northern Australia, and Southeast Asia.

Featured Plants

Platycerium Andinum: This large gorgeous fern looks great in a hanging basket but can also be hung against a wall because all the leaves are on one side.

Platycerium Elephantotis: The fronds look like elephant ears.

Platycerium Coronarium: This crown-like fern sits on top of a slatted square mount and drapes over.

Platycerium Bifurcatum: From the mother specimen, a pup can be cut off and used in a wall mount. This mother plant is huge, but is still a hanging specimen.

Platycerium Vassei: This is a wall-mounted, unusual staghorn fern because the back frond is green and not brown.

Platycerium Limoneii: This French staghorn fern has long graceful fronds and is in a small sphagnum moss basket. This can be hung against a wall or as a hanging basket.

Growing Staghorn Ferns

Staghorn ferns are epiphytes, which means they are air plants. They gladly grow on a wall mount, which lets air circulate around them. They need good-quality light, even some direct sunlight. They need some drying of the soil or medium in between watering. The back plates and medium need to be thoroughly soaked. They prefer more moisture when growing in the summer. If grown in cold weather, then less moisture is needed.

They get their name because their fronds look like the antlers of a staghorn deer. The plant bears two types of fronds: The sterile fronds are flat, round, and located at the base of the fern, and the fertile fronds are irregular, lobed, and usually ascending from the plant. Spores appear as brownish masses on the tips of the antler-like fertile fronds. These spores will produce new plants when sown on moist, sterile peat moss. However, this is a slow method of reproduction, and most new plants are obtained from suckers (pups), which develop from the mother plants.

Staghorn Fern Hanging Board How-To

1. Staghorn plants arrive in a ponga pot. Pull plant out of pot and shake off all excess matter. If Staghorn is from a mother specimen, reach behind the plate, which is the sterile frond shield, and remove with some roots on the frond.

2. Take sphagnum moss and put a handful onto the mounting board, a wooden frame.

3. Bury the fern roots into the moss.

4. Put pressure on the plate so that the plate and moss are making contact.

5. Secure the fern by tying monofilament fishing line.

6. Staple the fishing line to the end of the plaque and wrap the fishing line around the plaque and tightly over the fern shield (plate), allowing the fronds to stick up. Repeat this 3 to 5 times.

7. Once secured, staple the line to the end of the board and cut off excess string.

8. You will see the line, but as the shields grow out they will hide the line. Properly cared for they can live longer than most people.


Both the moss and mounting board can be purchased at your local gardening store.

Special Thanks

Special thanks to Byron Martin, owner of Logee’s Greenhouses in Danielson, Connecticut, for sharing information about staghorn ferns and making a hanging wall. Learn more about flower arranging, and get some great ideas from our beautiful

photo gallery.

How to Mount your Staghorn Fern

Materials Needed:
• Mono-filament fishing line
• Slatted mounting board or box (12” x 12”).
Use pressure treated lumber, cedar, or teak.
Other woods can rot over time
• Sphagnum moss
• Heavy-duty tacks or staple gun

Steps to Mount:
1. If you’re mounting small “pup” plants, cut behind the sterile shield frond to remove the rhizome root along with the young plant. If you’re dividing a mother plant, cut behind the shield frond and lift out some of the shield frond and its roots.

2. Mound up a couple handfuls of sphagnum moss onto the mounting board. If your frond shield is very large use a larger mounting board.

3. Bury the roots in the moss.

4. Press the frond shield onto the mounded moss so it makes good contact.

5. Staple the mono-filament line behind the mounting board. Wrap the line around the board 3 times under the long fertile fronds and 3 times above the fertile fronds. Once secured, staple the mono-filament line to the back side of the board making sure its tight.

6. When a Staghorn is first mounted to a plaque, the mono-filament line will be visible. As the shields grow, they will hide the line.

Staghorn Fern, Unmounted 150mm Establ. Plantlet pup (New supplier, larger size) FWD order only for Nov/Dec 2018

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Magical WHIMSY

AT FIRST IT WAS FUN, HE RECALLED — back when Thomas Hecker worked for the new Naples

Botanical Garden stewarding a variety of plants that included ferns.

Staghorn ferns in particular (Platycerium spp), with 18 known species in the world, almost inadvertently became one of his central early duties. Not because they’re hard to grow, but because some of them aren’t.

Then it got to be distracting work for him, but a continuing joy to people throughout South and Central Florida who admire the breathtaking ferns in formal gardens, or cultivate them at home, sometimes for decades. Or until they can’t.

Sometimes they want professional gardeners like Mr. Hecker and others to mount them in public places where a lot of people can admire their whimsical majesty.

“A lot of these were donated to us when they get too big and people want to see them, still,” explained Matt Boyson, head horticulturist at Mounts Botanical Garden of Palm Beach County, in West Palm Beach. “Our favorite way of mounting them is in the crotches of trees, but we have one hanging from a chain — they love our climate.”

Tom Hecker, executive director of the Everglades Wonder Gardens in Bonita Springs, with four of his favorite staghorn ferns. COURTESY PHOTO

He’s not the only one who takes donations.

“They call us and say, ‘It’s getting too big. Can you take it for the Estates so we can still come and see it?’” said Debbie Hughes, horticulturist at the world-renowned Edison-Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers. The Edison-Ford Estates has often accommodated such requests, which means visitors from Europe, Asia and the Americas have all been startled and awed by staghorn ferns, as well as the folks living a block away in Thomas Edison’s old neighborhood.

“Little old ladies would call you all the time and say, ‘Honey, can you come get my staghorn fern? It’s about to pull my tree over,’” recalled Mr. Hecker, now the executive director of the Everglades Wonder Gardens in Bonita Springs, where he has a number of venerable plants as big as cows.

“You’d have to get a truck, a pickup, and have it stationed below (the fern) when you removed it from the tree.”

At Sundance Orchids, owners Jacki Garland and Elijah Spurlin have two staghorns she’s watched grow since 1989. COURTESY PHOTO

Origin, species and care

It’s a sure bet that staghorn ferns were not part of the vast array of botanic novelties spread out along the Gulf Coast of Florida for Spanish explorers who first arrived about 500 years ago, when they may have seen cypress trees, for example, that still exist to this day, along with flora or fauna no longer in the world.

No one seems to know exactly how these spectacular ferns reached the Sunshine State, but one thing is certain: When they did, they thrived. “So botanists would define them as invasive exotics,” said Mr. Hecker.

But invasives that do no seeming hurt to the environment. As epiphytes or “air plants,” they attach themselves to the bark of trees — not to take nutrients from the tree, but from the air, falling debris or from the rain and wind.

Especially in the southern half of the peninsula where freezes are infrequent, of extremely short duration or nonexistent, and the most common staghorn species, an Australian native called platycerium bifurcatum thrives, a plant hardy enough to endure temperatures that can drop to 30 degrees Fahrenheit, briefly. But in any sharp cool spell anywhere in the state, they should be moved inside, say their keepers.

Matt Boysun, horticulture supervisor at Mounts Botanical Garden of Palm Beach County. COURTESY PHOTO

A member of the Polypodiaceae family, staghorns produce two fronds: basal, which cover the roots and some people call “shields”; and the foliar fronds — the big leaves that sometimes contain a soft brown covering on the tips — the sporangia. Spores are released to the wind and settle to propagate in the wild.

Since few Floridians seem to live in the wild, “the ideal planting spot for staghorn ferns is mounted: on a slab of wood, some tree fern fiber or a rock,” according to the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences ( Although it does well in shade or partially shaded locations, it can’t tolerate low-light conditions without risking disease, the experts say.

And it requires only a bit of liquid fertilizer in a 1:1:1 ratio, or even pieces of banana peels occasionally — once or twice a year for the fertilizer, and weekly or less for the peels tossed into a big plant — along with periodic watering, to grow robust.

Big and bigger

They can get heavy — over time as much as a couple of hundred pounds, maybe more in the rain, with lengths of 6 feet or more, and 3 feet or more wide.

At the Edison-Ford Winter Estates, Ms. Hughes continues to restore damage caused by a rude 2017 visitor named Irma. The hurricane denuded the grounds and destroyed some trees — but not the grand old staghorns, capable of living as long as a human.

Several remain on the ground waiting for trees to regain the strength to support them, ferns so big that cherry pickers or forklifts will be involved in their resurrections.

But not all are down, and summer is their growing season, when fronds turn a luscious green, said Ms. Hughes.

“I’m looking at one right now surrounding the whole tree — a branch is covered with staghorn growing right on the trunk. It loves it that way.”

Visitors love it that way, too.

“The number one question we get is, ‘What IS that?’” explained Ms. Hughes. “They’re all epiphytic (so-called air plants, taking their nourishment from rain and air). They don’t hurt the trees. The whole process just floors me. They call them staghorns, but there are some that aren’t ‘staghorns’ in appearance; they look more like lettuce. They’re beautiful.”

And big. Although no formal accord exists to recognize the largest staghorn in the world, there are vague claims to the title made from warm American climates, from time to time — California, Louisiana, Florida, which may resemble climates in Malayasia, Australia or some other South Pacific locations where staghorn ferns are native.

A family living near New Orleans, the Becnels, had “half a ton” of staghorns in six big plants, according to a 2012 report in The Times Picayune.

And a claim with photos by one admirer that a staghorn in Melboune, at the Rossiter House and Museum, may be the biggest in the world — a 5-foot by 10-foot monster so large a live oak would no longer support it, so the groundskeepers built a cinderblock platform — was quickly questioned by write-ins, in 2011.

“I have a staghorn fern in my backyard in St. Pete that is bigger than this. It encircles a large pine tree,” one woman wrote.

Another woman staked a claim to the title and tried to sell hers, at the same time: “I actually have one larger and fuller for sale, it’s very healthy, worth over $3,000, will sell for less,” she wrote in

To be sure, these are staghorns to die for.

But not to die from, suggests Mr. Hecker. The staff at Everglades Wonder Gardens keeps a close eye on the trees where they hang to insure branches aren’t about to break and fall on visitors, or on Mr. Hecker. He’s been known to just stand outside under his big beauties grinning out at the world from an obviously happy place.

Once, Mr. Hecker considered himself a staghorn fanatic and made an effort to collect all the species in existence, he said — which is much easier said than done.

“I had about 10 or 12 species and the most fascinating I had came from the Andes mountains in Peru — it’s the only one native to the New World. Just like there’s only one cactus and one bromeliad native to Africa, because the continents split once.”

But there’s another species he never acquired, to his regret, he admits — and neither have many others: Platycerium Alcicoine Madagascar, with less waxy leaves of a richer green and black dots on the shield fronds around the roots

“It’s in a complicated symbiotic relationship with orchids and ants,” Mr. Hecker explained. “It’s from Madagascar. It’s the holy grail that no one can grow, easily. They call them Myrmecophyte plants — plants evolved to live with ants inside them.”

But the most common staghorn, the Australian native, is not only one of the biggest, but also the fern’s namesake because it projects leaves that resemble the horns or antlers of a stag (some people call it the elkhorn fern as well).

Wild and cultivated ferns

In the wild, the experts say, they grow at the tops of trees sometimes 100 feet above the Earth, way up in the sun — that’s in such locations as Malaysia or Madagascar.

Here, they appreciate both sun and shade, and when they get large they require chains, sometimes, to keep them in the trees.

“They’re a fern,” explained Mr. Hecker, “so they have spores. The spores are like dust, they float on the wind and have to set in the right place. There are wild populations in Florida.”

Since their sheer size becomes a serious problem for trees themselves, and also their increasing monetary value in a culture that now seems to treasure them, gardeners who intend to keep them look for solid, safe ways to give them homes.

“We build these special stands because you can’t hang them from trees. People will drive up, back their trucks under them and cut the chains to steal them. They’re worth hundreds of dollars,” explained Jacki Garland.

With her partner, Elijah Spurlin, Ms. Garland is co-owner of Sundance Orchids in South Fort Myers, where she offers a wide range of orchids, ferns and bromeliads, among others.

People such as Ms. Garland don’t just have staghorn ferns; they also have staghorn fern stories.

“I’ve been watching two of these grow since 1989 — they were my old neighbors’,” she said.

“My neighbor gave it to a neighbor and when that neighbor moved, she gave it to somebody else, who gave it to me,” Ms. Garland explained. “They’re like children, but they don’t talk back.”

Ms. Garland had another neighbor with a rare variety she’d never seen, who wouldn’t share it with her. (It’s easy to take a “pup” from a big plant and give it away or mount it and sell it, the experts say.)

“I offered to buy a piece, and she wouldn’t sell it to me,” Ms. Garland said. “But when she passed away, she left it in her will for me to have.”

People are like that about their staghorns, sometimes. Which is why you can see that one, too, at Sundance Orchids. ¦

How To Mount Staghorn Ferns for a Stunning Display

Posted in Adult Education on May 3 2018, by Joyce Newman

Joyce H. Newman is an environmental journalist and teacher. She holds a Certificate in Horticulture from The New York Botanical Garden.

Staghorn ferns make a dramatic addition to any indoor plant collection. Botanically, they are epiphytes—plants that thrive while hanging onto threes or hanging in mossy baskets. In tropical environments and in NYBG’s Conservatory, mature staghorn ferns (Platycerium bifurcatum) look awesome with their huge, tan-colored, shield-like plates and green fronds shaped like antlers. The plates cover fairly shallow root balls that cling to tree trunks or other mossy homes.

The plants get their nutrients from the trees or moss they grow on and absorb water through their fronds. Like other ferns, the staghorn variety is among the most ancient of plants. (There are an estimated 10,500 fern species, according to the American Fern Society, some dating back tens of thousands of years.) The staghorn ferns are found from the Philippines and Australia to Madagascar, Africa, and South America. Ferns do not produce flowers, but are able to reproduce by sending very tiny spores into the air. The spores form on the underside of the fertile fronds.
Not surprisingly, mounted staghorn ferns have become popular decorator plants featured on the walls of Manhattan apartments as well as suburban and country estates. Mounting the plants on wooden boards may seem daunting, but it’s easy to learn how. At NYBG’s Staghorn Fern craft class, instructor Tara Douglass explains all the necessary steps and also how to properly care for your fern indoors.

Douglass owns the Brooklyn Plant Studio and is an experienced floral and garden designer based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She studied horticulture and botany at The New York Botanical Garden’s School of Professional Horticulture, and is an ISA Certified Arborist. For six years, Douglass worked in the horticulture department at Battery Park City Parks Conservancy. Her commercial retail experience includes a stint at Terrain, the garden and lifestyle store in Westport, Connecticut.

The materials that are provided in Douglass’ class include a wooden board, about 12″ by 16″ for mounting, a plant that comes in a 6″ pot, lots of sphagnum moss for wrapping the root ball, gardeners’ green wire or colorful copper wire, and nails that won’t rust when wet used for fastening the wires around the moss to hold the plant on the board. If you plan to hang the board on a wall, you’ll also get screws to fasten onto the back of the board and more wire.

Douglass’ next class will be offered at NYBG’s midtown location on August 4. In the meantime, keep an eye out for these fascinating ferns at your favorite plant shop.

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