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One of the funkiest ferns in the home is the staghorn fern that becomes a conversation piece at any plant gathering or plant auction event.
The plant wakes up a room creating a beautiful plaque. The foliage is unique and can become the anchor of your anchor collection while at the same time accenting orchids.
What are Staghorn Fern Plants?
You can find multiple ferns in the staghorn species in the plant kingdom. The scientific name is Platycerium spp. Still, the most common ones found sold at your plant stores is the Platycerium bifurcatum, among others.
You find this species mainly in Australia or New Guinea right through to Java at the Indonesian islands. In their natural habitat, the staghorn fern grows epiphytic in the rainforest. Hence, it clings to trees and does not need soil to thrive as the plant uses its roots for anchoring.
This outdoor plant uses the fronds to retrieve nutrients and water. An exciting thing about staghorn ferns is that it does not produce spores like other fern plants. Another notable thing with these types of ferns is that they can grow two types of fronds.
You can find the plants with shield fronds or antler fronds (bifurcated.) The shield fronds begin to grow at the base flatly and appear dried out. While the forked fronds give the plant its common name, it has a branched appearance looking like deer antlers.
These shield fronds also play an essential role in protecting the rhizomes from drying out or getting damaged. At the same time, the forked fronds bear spores on the underside of the fronds. Another widespread name used is elkhorn fern.
Staghorn Fern Care
Typically you mount the staghorn fern to wood planks to display on a plant hanging wall. When it comes to staghorn fern care, it grows its best in warmer humid conditions indoors and outside.
Staghorn Fern Plant Preferred Soil Mix
As staghorn ferns grow as epiphytes, they prefer a well-draining coarse soil rich in organic matter. So, instead of growing staghorn ferns in a pot, you mount them on wood planks or a plaque.
An excellent choice for wood is cedar for mounting your plant, as it is naturally resistant to rot. The best potting mix is dried sphagnum moss. The best for mounting on wood is to use a mature staghorn fern with up to five mounting screws on the front.
You will need to break up the root ball and place it in the center of the mount with the branched fronds oriented to the top. You then dampen the sphagnum moss, wrap it around the root ball to cover exposed roots and secure it with the mounting screws and twine.
But it does not mean you cannot grow your plant in a pot. If you prefer growing your plant in a container, you need a unique potting medium of orchid bark or cactus soil.
Light Requirements for Staghorn Fern Plants
Like your other indoor plants, the staghorn fern thrives in bright indirect light. Some good locations are east, west, or south-facing windows. Still, using sheer curtains helps to protect your plant from direct sunlight.
Or place your plant on the opposite side of the room, away from the windows. When grown at a north-facing window, you can leave it sitting near the window. Yet, the best is to use your hand and hold it over where you plan to place your plant.
If you find your hand casts a shadow you have enough light for your plant to thrive.
How Often to Water Staghorn Fern Plants
To understand your staghorn fern watering needs, we need to look a bit more at how your plant absorbs nutrients and moisture. As the elkhorn fern has two types of leaves, one is fertile, and the other set is sterile.
You can quickly distinguish this in your mature staghorn ferns. The fertile fronds are the antler-shaped leaves. The sterile leaves will start pale green; with age, they become brown, looking dead.
These leaves are essential; you should never remove them as they help reproduction. The leaves produce seeds which new plants grow from. The sterile leaves help to feed the plants and also provide protection.
The brown leaves catch debris from other plants, and with time it decomposes, providing nutrients the plant absorbs. In addition, these leaves absorb moisture and are the primary way your staghorn fern gets water.
So, watering your young staghorn ferns and mature plants depends on the growing medium you use. When grown in sphagnum moss, it helps to pour the water slowly onto the growing medium. The important thing is for the moss to become saturated for the roots to absorb.
When you grow your staghorn ferns in orchid bark or a cactus mix, you can water your plant as you would with orchids—only water a little at a time not to waterlog the soil. Occasionally, you can mist the sterile fronds using a water mist but prevent wetting the fertile fronds.
The reason is that the water can block the pores to interfere with producing spores. So the rule of thumb is to let the soil dry out between watering to prevent root rot. Or you can keep an eye on the fertile fronds, and when you see them droop, you can give them some water.
Another alternative method is to soak your staghorn fern instead of direct watering in between regular watering. But always check the potting medium before doing this.
Fertilizing Your Staghorn Fern
Staghorn ferns do not need special fertilizer and can thrive on weak applications of liquid plant food in the growing season. We recommend not feeding your plant in winter. You can choose a mixed fertilizer like a 10-10-10 or even a 20-20-20 feed. Yet, only use half a strength to apply during the watering schedule.
Temperature and Humidity Level Needs
In the staghorn ferns’ natural habitat, they seldom get exposed to cold, so they are not cold-hardy plants. So the ideal temperature for your plants is 80° F. Regardless, the temperature can drop to around 60° F overnight. But the temperature of your home should be surface.
Still, it helps protect your staghorn fern from cold drafts and air conditioners. If winter’s climate is too cold, it helps keep the heating on to prevent your plant from dying. The staghorn fern loves high humidity but prevents placing them near a fireplace or other arid zones.
It helps to mist your plant daily to provide the needed moisture for the leaves. Still, if you notice the fronds have brown tips and the root ball remains moist, it helps to mist frequently. In addition, you can move your staghorn ferns to the bathroom for an added humidity boost.
Pruning This Unusual Plant
One thing you will find growing this fern is that it does not need pruning. You may find the lower frond turning brown, looking like dead leaves but needs to be left alone. You will find the foliage expiring with time, and you can remove it. To ensure that you can remove the fronds, they will hang loosely, and you can easily pull them off.
Propagating Staghorn Fern Plants
You can achieve staghorn fern propagation using two methods offshoots or spores. The easiest method is from the offshoots developing on mature plants on both the fertile and sterile leaves.
Hence, they are young plants attached to the mother plant. You can gently remove these offshoots from the parent plant with a pull and twist motion. If you find these younger plants do not come off, leaving them a bit longer is best.
Once you remove an offshoot, it helps to plant them straight away mounted or in a soil mix. This is also a great way to thin out your mature plant. The other method is using the spores growing on the reproductive fronds.
You will see them in green lumps on the underside of the foliage in the early stages of the growing season. It helps to wait until summer for them to turn brown to harvest. Then, you can remove the leave by placing it in a paper bag.
The seeds will release themselves, falling to the bottom of the bag. Alternatively, you can scrape the spores using a knife. Then plant the seeds into a growing medium, moisten them, and cover them with a plastic bag to keep in a warm place.
The seeds take several months to germinate and need some patience.
Staghorn Fern Varieties
When it comes to the antelope ears plant, you can find different varieties to create a tropical feature in the home.
The fern also has the same popular name, elkhorn fern producing shield leaves that hug the roots with the slender antler leaves with small branches found at the tips.
The American stag ferns have shortish yet upright antler basal leaves with long and slender drooping fertile fronds that produce a lot of pups.
The crown staghorn fern has basal upright crown-like leaves with weeping antler fronds.
The elephant ear staghorn fern has rounded cabbage-like leaves without the pronounced forking as seen in the other species.
Staghorn Fern Plants Diseases and Pests
Luckily the Pendulous foliar fronds do not get pestered by too many insects. The majority of insects that might attack your plant are aphids or scale. You can remove them easily with a spray of insecticidal soap.
Other concerns are droopy leaves resulting from underwatering. Even if the leaves look dusty, we recommend not wiping them as the color displayed in a furry gray helps slow transpiration.
Lastly, you may find black spots on the foliage, a fungus that can spread quickly. This typically happens from overwatering.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, the staghorn fern you can grow as an indoor plant. The plant that resembles deer antlers grows in its natural habitat on tree trunks. Hence, they look beautiful mounted on a growing medium like a piece of wood with sphagnum moss. The plant absorbs water from the moss and thrives in indirect sunlight. The important thing is to provide your plant with a well-draining growing medium if grown in pots like orchid bark or cactus mix.
The staghorn fern grows in the rainforest on a tree trunk under the canopy of trees. So it does not like the sun much. The best spot in the garden is in a place with partial shade or in the home with indirect light. Too much sun creates very dry air that can damage the plant’s leaves.
While the staghorn fern can grow its best on a wooden plank in moss, it can grow in pots using an orchid or cactus mix. The important thing is to provide your plant with enough drainage to prevent the root ball from rotting.
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