How to grow and care for a staghorn fern

Staghorn fern growing in a pot

The staghorn fern (Platycerium bifurcatum) is an exotic plant in the Polypodiaceae family. Native to the rainforests of Australia and Southeast Asia, it’s an epiphytic plant, so grows directly on other plants (typically the forks of trees) and has no need for soil. Its roots absorb water directly from the tree it’s growing on.

Fern leaves are known as fronds. Staghorn fern has two types of fronds – antler fronds and the shield fronds. Antler fronds grow up to 90cm long, are usually branched and are reminiscent of deer antlers (hence its common name). They carry reproductive spores on their underside. Shield fronds are round, plate-like leaves that surround the base of the plant. Their function is to protect the plant roots and take up water and nutrients. Young shield fronds are green but turn brown and dry up as they mature. This is perfectly normal and does not mean your plant is dying.

How to grow staghorn fern

Grow staghorn fern in a humid, draught-free environment such as a bathroom. Mist regularly and water weekly with rainwater.


Where to grow staghorn fern

Epiphyllum guatemalense f. monstrosa (foreground) with Platycerium bifurcatum staghorn fern (background)
Epiphyllum guatemalense f. monstrosa (foreground) with staghorn fern (background)

Grow staghorn fern in a bright spot away from direct sunlight, in a humid, draught-free environment such as a bathroom. It needs average temperatures of around 20ºC in summer, falling to no lower than 16ºC in winter.


How to plant staghorn fern

Staghorn Fern on wooden board ready to be mounted. Getty Images
Staghorn fern on wooden board ready to be mounted. Getty Images

Staghorn fern doesn’t need planting as it’s an epiphytic plant that ‘attaches’ to trees. It may be sold already mounted on to a piece of bark or wood, but if not you can easily attach it yourself using wire and an absorbent material such as garden moss or coir (traditionally gardeners would use sphagnum moss but the harvesting of this moss contributes to the decline of peat bogs so we don’t recommend it). You can also ‘plant’ staghorn fern into a pot of moss or bark chippings, where it will give the illusion of being a potted plant.


Caring for staghorn fern

Shield fronds of staghorn fern. Getty Images
Shield fronds of staghorn fern. Getty Images

Water regularly, using rainwater, ideally at room temperature. You can either pour the water slowly onto the moss surrounding the roots, or immerse the whole rootball in water for five minutes, and allow to drain. Staghorn fern requires high levels of humidity, so mist the shield leaves weekly with a plant mister.

Fertilise with a standard liquid fertiliser every two to four weeks, applying it in the same way as you apply water.

Staghorn fern does not need pruning. Ensure the brown shield leaves remain on the plant as they are integral to the health of the plant.


How to propagate staghorn fern

While staghorn fern can be propagated by spores, this is hard work and takes a long time. Two easier ways are by division or the separating of ‘pups’. To divide your plant, simply cut it in half with a serrated knife, ensuring there are plenty of fronds and roots on both halves. ‘Pups’ are offshoots of the main plant. Gently remove these.

To fix your division or pup to a new mount, take a piece of wood or bark and collect a good clump of moss from the garden. Soak the moss and set it on the mount, then place the fern on top of the moss so the shield leaves are touching the mount. Tie it in place with horticultural wire. As your new fern grows, the fronds will grow over the wire.


Pests and diseases

Staghorn fern rarely suffers from pests or diseases although it may be susceptible to scale insect. Remove these by hand with tweezers.

Advice on buying staghorn fern

  • Make sure you have the right growing conditions for staghorn fern before buying
  • Always buy house plants from reputable suppliers

Where to buy staghorn fern

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