Staghorn ferns used to be quite difficult to get hold of, which made them rare plants in the United States. But, over the years, species like the Platycerium bifurcatum from Australia have made their way to North America and increased the options of easier-to-care-for staghorn ferns.
These plants are epiphytic, meaning they like to grow attached to the surface of another plant or tree, which is why they are often mounted on a wall when kept as indoor plants.
They get their name from the shape of their leaves which resemble the horns of a male deer, or stag.
In this article, we will discuss the proper cultural care of these unique plants, how to mount them correctly, and how to propagate them.
If you are thinking about adding this plant to your collection and want to learn more about it, just keep reading.
Staghorn fern anatomy
Before we dive into the care of the staghorn fern, let us briefly discuss the anatomy of this plant. This is important to note, because it will help you understand why taking on the responsibility for this plant can be a bit daunting, even for experienced plant owners.
The staghorn fern’s structure is so unusual that it is unlike most other fern species, which are already quite one-of-a-kind themselves.
Like other ferns, staghorns also reproduce through spores.
Their leaves are called fronds, and they have two kinds of fronds. The first type of frond is the shield frond, which surrounds the base of the plant in the shape of a shield. These shield fronds protect the plant’s roots, while also aiding in the absorption of nutrients and water from the environment. They are green at first, but will eventually dry up and turn brown over time. Thus, if you see the shield fronds turning brown, do not worry as this is completely normal. Also, do not make the mistake of removing these dry shield fronds.
The second type of frond is the antler frond. These are the fronds that resemble antlers because of their bifurcated leaves. They grow from the middle of the plant and the spores can be found at the bottom of the fronds.
The root ball of the staghorn fern is at the very bottom, and this is the part of the plant that attaches to the tree in its natural habitat.
Staghorn fern care
1. Water requirements
Properly watering your staghorn fern will entail both soaking and misting the plant.
When soaking your staghorn fern, place it in a basin or sink of water for 10 to 20 minutes. You will know the plant is done soaking when the roots have been fully saturated. You can also just hold the plant over a bathtub and let water flow through the root ball until it is saturated.
Once the root ball is saturated, let the plant drip dry before hanging it on its mount again.
When misting the fern, use a spray bottle with a fine mist and mist the entire plant, making sure even the bottoms of both antler and shield fronds are misted.
Knowing how often to water your staghorn fern is very important, because both overwatering and underwatering can have significant negative effects on the plant.
There is no set schedule to follow when watering your staghorn fern, because different regions have different seasons, climates and weather conditions, and all of these factors play a role in how long it takes for the plant’s roots to dry out.
However, there are some pointers to keep in mind when learning how to properly water your plant. You can first try watering it once a week during hot months, and once every two weeks during the cooler months. This is just a starting schedule that you will need to adjust depending on the living conditions in your home.
These plants like humidity because they absorb water from the air through their fronds and roots. The more humid your living space, the less you will need to water the plant. If you keep the plant in a room that is humid, like the laundry room or the bathroom, reduce the frequency of soaking and misting.
In the hot summer months you will need to water more often, while the dryness of the winter months may require more frequent misting.
Also be aware of the symptoms of overwatering. A brown or black root ball signifies overwatering, and you should scale back your watering immediately until you see the roots recovering.
If the antler fronds’ tips are turning brown, you may be underwatering the plant, so correct your watering techniques accordingly.
2. Light requirements
Staghorn ferns like bright, diffused or indirect light. If the light reaching your indoor staghorn fern is too intense, hang a sheer curtain over the window to help diffuse the intensity of the light. Try to refrain from mounting the plant anywhere where light can hit it directly, because it can get sunburnt.
During the winter, when light is scarce and weak, use a grow lamp to support your plant.
3. Temperature requirements
Although these plants grow best in more tropical climates, they can tolerate cold temperatures surprisingly well. Just make sure you do not expose the plant to cold temperatures for long periods. Try to keep the temperature around the plant between 50 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It is completely fine to keep the staghorn fern outdoors, as long as the temperature is within this range and as long as the plant is not in direct sunlight and is watered properly.
Take the plant indoors when outside temperatures start to drop lower than 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
4. Humidity requirements
Staghorn ferns like high humidity because their natural habitat is the tropics. This is why they do well in places like the bathroom, and why they like regular misting. If you do not have the time to keep up with the plant’s humidity requirements, you can always buy a humidifier to regulate the humidity around the plant.
5. Staghorn fern mounting
You can plant your staghorn fern in soil, but they are most often mounted on a piece of driftwood or preserved wood. These woods will not rot, and this characteristic is important when choosing the material. You will also need a clear fishing line and some sphagnum moss.
First, take the sphagnum moss and moisten it a bit with some water. Use enough moss to make a good base for the plant, and place the moss on the wood.
Prepare the fern by removing as much soil from it as you can. Position the fern so that the root ball is on top of the moss; you can flatten the root ball if you need to. Add sphagnum moss as needed to make sure the root ball is properly cradled.
Make sure you are only covering the root ball, and not the shield fronds.
Using the fishing line, secure the entire fern and the moss to the wood. Make sure you use enough fishing line to keep all of it tightly secured.
Now all you have to do is to find the perfect spot to hang your mounted fern.
Staghorn fern propagation
Propagating ferns is definitely possible, but it can be a bit challenging, especially for beginners. It can also take quite some time to achieve success.
You will need to collect spores from the plant’s antler fronds. It is best to do this during the plant’s growing season, in the spring and summer.
Check the bottom of fertile antler fronds for spores that have darkened. You can either scrape the spores off the frond and collect them in a container, or you can cut off the frond, place it in a paper bag and wait for it to dry out. A dried frond’s spores will drop off into the bag for easier collection.
In a pot, place moistened sphagnum moss and gently scatter the tiny spores over it.
Do not water the moss from above. Place a water dish under the pot and allow the evaporating water to moisten the moss gradually. If the top of the moss feels damp, you have moistened it sufficiently. Remove the water dish at this point, because you do not want the moss to become soggy.
Place the pot in an area where the spores can get bright, indirect light. Lock the moisture in around the moss and the spores by placing a plastic bag over the pot. Remove the plastic bag every couple of weeks to let the spores breathe. Mist the spores with a fine mist sprayer every couple of days as well.
The spores should take three to six months to germinate, and it can take as long as a year for the actual plant to develop.
Staghorn ferns are beautiful, one-of-a-kind plants that are a bit intimidating to grow and care for, but provided you are determined and do your research, you will be rewarded with one of the most striking houseplants in your home.
Staghorn ferns like bright, indirect light, high humidity and temperatures between 50 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. They like both misting and soaking as primary watering techniques.
Mount this plant by covering the root ball with sphagnum moss and tying it to a piece of preserved wood or driftwood. You can then hang this mounted fern wherever you see fit and conditions are appropriate.
Propagate the staghorn fern by collecting spores from the back of the antler fronds and placing them on moist sphagnum moss. Maintain the ideal temperature, moisture, light and humidity, and wait three to six months for the spores to germinate. In about a year, you will have new staghorn ferns to grow.
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