Staghorn Fern - Elkhorn Fern

Platycerium bifercatum

The elkhorn or staghorn fern, Platycerium bifercatum, is an epiphyte from the forests of Africa, Australia, and Tropical Asia. It grows on a tree by attaching its roots to the bark. It doesn’t grow into the bark or receive nourishment from the tree. It just uses the bark for support.

It can also be grown in a pot or basket of coarse, fast-draining soil.

Image of a huge staghorn fern at the Sanford zoo.

This huge staghorn is on display at the central Florida zoo in Sanford.

The botanical name of this plant is Platycerium bifurcatum which means broad horn, twice forked. This is actually the plant's physical description in short.

The large flocked leaves look like deer antlers.

There are basically two different types of fronds (fronds are the leaf-like parts of a fern), namely the fertile green fronds and the sterile brown fronds. The green fronds, which look like stag horns, grow spores on the under side at the tips for reproduction.

These may grow straight up or droop depending on the cultivar. In some varieties, the fertile fronds will be more gray than green. Others have a silvery cast.

Close-Up of a Staghorn Fern Plant (Platycerium Superbum)
Platycerium superbum or grande
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They also appear in a wide range of sizes.

Some undivided. Others deeply bifurcated.

Elkhorn fern with spores. The brown fronds are green initially and with age, they turn brown, flat and round. The brown fronds surround groups of green fronds at the base.

Mature fertile fronds are usually 3-4 feet long.

Elkhorn fern with spores on the leaves. There is no need to panic if you notice brown patches on the tips of older fronds, they are just spores.

Ferns have a taste for potassium, so when you give fertilizer, keep the potassium liking in mind. Simply placing a dried banana peel in between the fronds works well.

Otherwise just give outdoor plants a little fish emulsion once a year. Inside, you can use any balanced liquid food.

Keep the plant moderately moist. Overwatering is harmful, it can cause a fungal disease. If you see black spots on the basal (sterile) fronds, withhold water and keep the humidity low to check the disease's spread. If more black spots appear, spray with a fungicide.

The plant loves humidity but keep it drier during the cold months.

Staghorn Fern Propagation

Stags constantly grow new groups of green and brown fronds, which can be cut off and replanted. If your fern blows down and breaks, plant or mount each piece to get more plants. If you want a bigger plant, group a few of the pieces together.

Elkhorn ferns can also be propagated by planting the spores, but this is an excruciatingly slow process which has to be conducted under controlled conditions.

Planting or mounting divisions is much faster and easier.

Instructions for Mounting Staghorn Ferns:

Image of an elkhorn fern growing on a tree at Leu Gardens in Orlando.

This elkhorn fern is growing on a tree inside Harry P. Leu Gardens in Orlando, Florida.

Small mounted staghorn fern picture. Staghorn ferns can be allowed to grow either directly on a tree or slab or you can hang them.

They can attach themselves to concrete but should not be allowed to do so as they will cause cracks to form in the wall.

To grow a Platycerium in a basket or on a slab of bark, make a bed of saturated Long-fibered Sphagnum Moss or osmunda fern fiber, plant the stag and secure it with craft wire or plastic strips. If you're using a bark slab, pound some nails into it to make a "cradle" for the moss before attaching the fern.

Keep the moss moist and eventually new fronds will appear. It is as easy as that.

Undoubtedly, outdoors is the best growing environment for this fern. In the jungle, it is common to see the plant under a canopy of leaves enjoying the shade.

Mount or hang it in indirect sun (preferably early morning sun) and protect it from high winds.

Staghorn fern hanging from a tree in Ormond Beach, Florida.

If it blows down it may break into many pieces. Organic materials like leaves or flowers that fall from other plants will inevitably wind up caught in the staghorn fern's leaves, decay and become food for the fern.

Care for staghorn ferns is minimal. The only thing you must do is protect them from hard freezes. The plant's ideal temperature is 65 degrees F though it can tolerate temps as low as 25 degrees F. Zones 9 to 11 are perfect for it.

Smaller plants can be overwintered indoors. Give it filtered sun and provide good air circulation. As the fern matures, it may become too large and heavy for you to keep it inside.

Other Interesting Ferns:

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