The Staghorn Fern is my most favorite indoor house plant to grow.
Since I get asked about this unique statement maker almost daily, I thought I would share some of my tips and tricks to keep them looking their best.
I have quite the collection, and am always on the lookout for different species.
During the Texas Freeze of 2021, I lost my biggest staghorn fern.
We lost power and water for nearly 15 days, and the temperature in the house dropped below 32 degrees in some rooms.
A few of my staghorns and all of my orchids just could not pull through.
I did manage to save the stags I had over-wintered in my greenhouse.
This year, we just lost power again.
But, the house temps stayed at a balmy 52 degrees.
The staghorns seem to be fine.
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History of the Staghorn Fern
The staghorn fern’s scientific name is Platycerium.
This fern is an epiphytic fern native to Africa, Australia, and Asia.
Epiphytic means that these plants grow on the surface of other plants.
Epiphytes do not cause any harm as they take in their moisture and nutrients from their environment – not the host plant.
Here is another fun fact!
The staghorn fern is related to the Blue Star Fern.
In fact, both the Staghorn fern and blue star fern are members of the Polypodiaceae family.
Many of y’all have seen my Blue Star fern mounted in my head planter.
Her name is Poly, and she makes regular appearances in my Instagram feed. And her fronds, also have that staghorn effect.
Back to the Staghorn………..
Characteristics of the Staghorn Fern
The Staghorn fern is made up of two types of fronds.
The shield fronds are round or heart shaped and wrap around the base of the fern.
These fronds help regulate the amount of water the fern receives.
And, for those Staghorn ferns growing in the wild, the shield fronds also help to catch any material from trees or surrounding greenery to help provide nutrients to the fern.
As the shield frond, or back plate matures, it will turn papery brown.
The second type of frond on the staghorn fern is the green, forked, “stag” or “elk” shaped fronds.
These fronds are how the Platycerium came to get its common name – the Staghorn or Elkhorn fern.
The green fronds can reach as long as 18-24 inches, depending on the species.
Some varieties grow upright and some varieties will droop – they are ALL stunning and rewarding houseplants to grow.
Care of the Staghorn Fern
These ferns love humidity, moisture, and bright indirect light – just like any traditional fern.
And, just like traditional ferns they do not tolerate sitting in water. Therefore, they must drain properly.
I have seen these ferns grown in baskets.
Although stunning, I personally do not recommend keeping them in this type of environment for long….unless you own a greenhouse and a professionally mounted overhead misting system.
Because these ferns are epiphytic in nature, I have found that they grow better for the traditional plant lover mounted to a board in a small amount of fertile potting soil and then covered in moss to protect their roots.
Mounting the ferns this way is very similar to how they grow in their native habitat.
Mounting and hanging them upright also allows them to drain properly and prevents the dreaded root rot issue.
Unfortunately, root rot happens (most often in a basket) because the shield fronds at the base of the fern end up trapping the moisture indefinitely instead of allowing it to drain.
As I mentioned earlier, Staghorn ferns love humidity. In fact, these ferns take in moisture through both sets of fronds.
That is why I recommend growing these plants in a bathroom or kitchen where humidity is usually high.
If that is not possible, then you will want to mist these ferns in between their regularly waterings to ensure that they receive enough moisture to stay happy and healthy.
Otherwise, the tips of the fronds will start to brown from inadequate humidity in the air.
However, some species, like the P. Willlinckii, will naturally have brown tips.
These brown tips are not stressed and are actually fertile fronds.
These fronds hold spores that will eventually fall off to then go on to produce new staghorn ferns.
My Watering Recommendations and Steps
I recommend watering a staghorn fern deeply once a week.
- Remove the mounted fern from the wall.
- Set the board in the sink, and turn the water to a “cool” warm temperature (not ice cold and not hot).
- Run the water (more than a drip, but not full blast) onto the base of the fern until the roots are completely soaked and the moss can no longer absorb the water.
- Then, gently mist the fronds of the fern with the sprayer nozzle of your faucet.
- After allowing the fern to drain into the sink for a few hours, hang the fern back in its location.
- Do not water the fern again until the moss feels almost dry to the touch.
Note: I have read where some growers recommend soaking the entire board in water. I have never done as this decreases the life of the board (the board will either rot, split in two, or both). Then, you will need to re-mount the fern more quickly.
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