Staghorn ferns, Platycerium bifurcatum, are epiphytic ferns that can be grown without soil or potting mix. They make an interesting interior design feature when grown indoors. As long as you provide them with the right conditions, these plants are quite easy to grow.
What is Staghorn Fern?
These ferns grow on the bark of trees in the sub-tropical forests of Java, New Guinea, and parts of eastern Australia.
The fern takes its name from the appearance of its leaves, which are flat, horn-like, and forked, a little like the tines of a stag’s or elk’s antlers. (Another common name for this fern is elkhorn fern.)
Though Platycerium bifurcatum is the most common type, the name staghorn fern (or related names) is/are also used for some of its relatives, including P. andinum, P. coronarium, P. elephantosis, P. hillii, and P. stemaria.
Where to Grow Staghorn Fern
If you want to grow staghorn fern indoors then the first things you need to understand are the basic environmental requirements of these plants when it comes to light, temperature, humidity, and growing medium or positioning.
Staghorn ferns do require a fairly bright location when grown indoors. But it is also important to make sure that they do not get direct sun – especially during the summer months – as the hot sun can scorch the delicate fronds.
The general goal is to mimic as closely as possible the conditions of dappled light that the plants would experience in their native environment below the canopy of rainforest trees.
Temperature & Humidity Requirements
These ferns need temperatures above 10 degrees Celsius at all times, ideally a little warmer. And yet they should not be exposed to temperatures above 35 degrees. You should aim to keep the temperatures stable and towards the middle of this range.
Do not place a staghorn fern in a location where the temperatures alter widely or suddenly, such as too close to a heat source such as a radiator or stove, or in a cold draught from a door or window.
Humidity is also very important when growing these ferns indoors. Low humidity can sometimes be an issue indoors, especially in temperate climates in winter when central heating is on.
So grow these plants in a humid room like a bathroom, and/or use strategies to improve humidity, such as grouping houseplants together, misting, or placing a pebble and water-filled saucer or tray below the plant.
One of the most fascinating things about these ferns is that they grow on trees rather than on the soil. Young staghorn ferns may be started in a traditional potting mix. But they are often mounted on wood once they reach maturity.
To mount an epiphytic fern onto wood, you first need to place the fern with its base in a growing medium of some kind. This can be compost, moss, or other organic material. You can then secure this and the fern to a wooden board or a piece of bark using a length of wire. This wire will be hidden as fronds grow and cover the fastening.
The fern with its growing medium and mounting can then be hung on a wall, to become an interesting interior design feature.
Planting Staghorn Fern
An existing staghorn fern can be propagated by division. Or you can purchase one from a specialist seller online or in a garden center or plant nursery.
Divisions are sometimes potted up into a growing medium to mature, while larger specimens are usually mounted right away. These can be a unique interior design feature for your home when the fern and its mounting are hung on a wall.
Caring for Staghorn Fern
With the epiphytic fern mounted on a wall, you may wonder how you can keep it looking lush and green over time.
It is important to remember that though you will not usually grow it in a pot like many other ferns, like those other houseplant ferns it also thrives in warm and humid conditions, and will need to be watered on a regular basis.
These ferns need frequent watering. But they also need their base to dry out between waterings. As a rough rule of thumb, you will need to provide a staghorn fern with water every week or so in warmer environments, and every 2-3 weeks during cooler months and in cooler locations.
To water these ferns, you will not be able to simply take a watering can and tip water into a pot. Since they are mounted rather than growing in a medium, you will have to water them differently.
Watering staghorn ferns therefore usually involves taking the fern and its mounting from your wall, or wherever it is placed, and soaking it in water for 10-20 minutes until the roots are fully saturated before you allow it to drip dry and then, once dried out, rehang it in its normal location.
During the spring and summer months, you can boost the growth of this epiphytic fern by feeding it when watering with a well-balanced, organic liquid plant feed such as a mild, weak, compost tea.
During the colder part of the year, you might feed every couple of months, or stop feeding altogether before resuming in the spring.
Most of the problems encountered when growing these ferns relate to improper growing conditions or care. Issues with watering or humidity are unfortunately among the most common and these can lead to some fungal issues, such as black spots on the leaves.
Not particularly pest-prone, these plants can also sometimes be infected with common houseplant pests such as scale insects, aphids, spider mites, or mealybugs, for example.
As the plants grow, they may need to be remounted onto a larger wooden board or piece of bark. But there is not much else that you will have to do but keep an eye on your fern and watch it grow. Keep your fern happy and it could grace your home interior for many years to come.