You won’t find a more beautiful leaf shape than Staghorn fern (Platycerium). At least, it is certainly the most primitive of the ferns. Its peculiar appearance is combined with an equally peculiar character. Like all epiphytes, Staghorn fern (Platycerium) has very high requirements for humidity and temperature. But the rules of care are even more demanding, as this fern does not forgive mistakes. To make Staghorn fern (Platycerium) the main pride of the collection and only make it happy, you must surround it with love and care. Diligent watering alone is not enough. In this article you will learn how to grow Staghorn fern (Platycerium) and Staghorn fern care.
STAGHORN FERN PLANT DESCRIPTION
Staghorn fern (Platycerium) gives the impression of being relic and ancient, differing in its unusual appearance and its characteristics.
Staghorn fern (Platycerium) is an epiphytic fern of the family Polyporaceae, known as “staghorn” (deer fern, flathead fern). Plants with shortened rhizomes and plants with fluttering rhizomes develop on one side and droop to the side. Under indoor conditions, Staghorn fern is usually limited to 8-20 inches (20-50 cm) in height and 40 inches (1 m) in circumference, eventually forming colonies.
Staghorn fern plants have only spore-bearing leaves up to 40 inches (1 m) long that resemble antlers. Their cuneiform shape is difficult to see because they are dissected into linear, flattened lobes that fold into a trumpet shape from the middle of the leaf. The leathery surface and interesting white hair texture of Staghorn fern give a grayish effect that makes the “horns” of Staghorn fern even more interesting.
In nature, round, kidney-shaped, sessile, sterile “anchor” leaves cling to their host tree, but in indoor Staghorn fern plants, they cling to the soil. As a result, they often “hug” the pot, forming a kind of “support” that protects the roots from drying out and damage. Light green, solid or slightly cracked, with raised veins, they gradually dry to a reddish-brown color.
The spore powder of Staghorn fern is scattered on the back of the leaves and looks like a reddish coppery mottling.
SPECIES OF STAGHORN FERN INDOORS
Of the nearly two dozen species found in nature, only a few Staghorn fern are grown as houseplants. It is widely believed that for most gardeners, there are actually about 18 varieties commonly grown. This is a shortlist of some of the most popular varieties you are likely to find.
- Platycerium coronarium, ‘Staghorn Fern,’ ‘Crown Staghorn,’ ‘Elkhorn Fern, ”Disc Stag’s Horn Fern.’
This variety produces two types of foliage. The first is an upright, broad peltate leaf, and the second is a long, pendulous, forked fertile leaf. These longer leaves carry the spores for vegetative reproduction.
- Platycerium alcicorne
Platycerium alcicorne also has two common leaf types, a “shield” and a longer, elongated leaf-like body with many finger-like tips. It is believed that the shield leaves provide shelter for the roots to prevent them from becoming overly wet in rainforest conditions.
- Platycerium andinum, ‘American Staghorn Fern.’
Platycerium andinum is the only Platycerium native to the Americas, originating in the Andes of South America. The sporophyte and the upper protective leaves of this species have antler-like projections rather than domed peltate leaves. These spore-producing leaves tend to be narrower and longer than the upper leaves. It rarely reproduces from the spores and produces pups that can grow around the tree in which the plant is located.
- Platycerium bifurcatum
With heart-shaped sterile leaves up to 18 inches long and forked, long, arching fertile leaves up to 36 inches, this elkhorn fern is one of the most commonly grown ferns. It can be grown outdoors in a sheltered location but is most commonly grown as an indoor houseplant.
- Platycerium hillii, ‘Stiff Staghorn,’ ‘Green Staghorn
Peltate leaves orbicular or reniform, shallowly lobed. The fertile leaves of Stiff Staghorn are narrower than the shield but still wider than other Platycerium species with shallow lobes. Sometimes referred to as Australian Bush Antler, it originated in Australia and New Guinea. It is related to Platycerium bifurcatum, but it has a much shallower forked pattern and smaller shields.
- Platycerium elephantotis, ‘Elephant Ear Staghorn Fern
Unlike most of the platyceriums I have described so far, this one definitely earns the name “elephant ear” because the normal forked and antler-like shape is nowhere to be seen. Instead, this plant has broad, rounded fertile leaves and tall arching sterile foliage.
- Platycerium superbum
Another Australian native plant, Platycerium supercum, produces a large nesting leaf that is used to catch insects or fallen leaves as fertilizer. From the nest grows a longer antler-like foliage that is broad and produces spores for reproduction. However, it does not produce young, so the only way to reproduce it is from spores.
- Platycerium grande, ‘Regal Elkhorn Fern,’ ‘Moosehorn Fern.’
At one time, Platycerium grande was considered to be a subspecies of Super Eustoma. However, grande originated from the Philippines, and its overhanging leaves tend to be much narrower than those of superum.
- Platycerium ridleyi, ‘Ridley’s Staghorn
From the center of the large, textured peltate leaves emerges a stem covered with stiff, antler-like leaves. This is platyceriumridleyi, a popular plant from Thailand. This rainforest plant is thought to be mostly extinct but can still occasionally be found for sale directly from Thailand to collectors. It has long been lost to growth in its natural habitat.
- Platycerium stemaria, ‘Triangle Staghorn Fern’
Native to Africa, this species tends to fork its pendulous leaves into an inverted Y-shape, creating a long triangular visual appearance. Its upper peltate leaves are wavy at the tips, tall and wide. When sporulating, the spore patches are herringbone shaped at the central V of the sporophyte. This creates a darker patch that looks very attractive. Some species are very dark green, but most are a medium shade of green.
- Platycerium veitchii, ‘Silver Elkhorn,’ ‘French Elkhorn Fern’
This last Australian species are often covered with soft white hairs, giving it a silvery appearance. Its peltate leaves grow upwards at the top, forming tall, thin fingers. Also, the fertile leaves tend to be more upright than other species and have a habit of extending outward before they eventually droop toward the ground. In the wild, silver elkhorn is lithophile, which means it prefers to grow on rocks in full sun conditions. If grown in shadier conditions, it will lose its silvery appearance and more pronounced outward growth.
Unnamed hybrids and varieties more adapted to dry air and normal room temperatures are more often sold.
GROWING CONDITIONS FOR INDOOR STAGHORN FERN
Staghorn fern flowers are shade-tolerant and heat-loving and require a carefully chosen location where they can remain for many years. Unfortunately, they do not adapt well to change and relocation, especially from the age of 3.
Lighting and placement
Staghorn fern needs a lot of space, and the foliage needs to hang freely, not against glass or other surfaces. Even if the fern grows in a pot, it is worth placing it on a stand or letting its foliage hang over the edge of a piece of furniture.
To enjoy the lush form of Staghorn fern, you need to find a place with even, soft, diffused light. Direct sunlight can wreak havoc, and it is an amazingly shade-tolerant fern as long as it slowly adapts. Diffused bright light near the east and west windows, a north bay window, or a semblance of a south window at some distance from it is ideal.
When choosing a location, you should consider the advice given at the time of purchase: Staghorn fern does not adapt to changes in light, so conditions in your new home should be close to normal.
Temperature and ventilation
Staghorn fern does not like extreme conditions and prefers stable warm temperatures. In summer, a temperature range of 64-77 °F (18-25°C) is best for them. In winter, the plant does not tolerate temperatures down to 55 °F (13 °C). Optimal temperatures are around 59-60 °F (15-16°C). A warm, overwintering environment will also suit them if there is enough humidity.
Staghorn fern flowers do not even tolerate warm air currents and sudden temperature changes. It is best to keep them in a protected place with stable conditions.
CARING FOR STAGHORN FERN AT HOME
Do not underestimate the moisture-loving nature of Staghorn fern, which is easy to guess from the nature of the growth. Dry soil and dry air are not tolerated by Staghorn fern.
Watering and humidity
Establishing a comfortable watering regime for Staghorn fern is easy: the substrate must be kept slightly moist at all times, watered as soon as the soil dries out from above, and drained from the tray immediately. A completely dry substrate is not beneficial, but too much watering will tend to spread rot. Staghorn fern can be watered in the same way as orchids – by submerging the pot in water or by gently pouring from above into the empty spaces of the sterile leaf bed.
With this fern, you need to create a contrast between summer and winter by halving the amount of watering during the dormant period. Only very soft water is suitable for Staghorn fern.
The minimum humidity the plant can maintain in its fronds is 50%, and even then it is very slow to adapt. For maximum ornamental quality and active growth, it is best to maintain a humidity level of 75-80%. Spraying is not allowed and soaking of cuticular leaves is not permitted. A humidifier must be installed for Staghorn fern (both electrical and homemade alternatives will do). It is appropriate to place Staghorn fern together with other moisture-loving crops (especially orchids).
Fertilization and fertilizer formulations
Staghorn fern does not like high concentrations of fertilizer or unnecessary fertilizers. Fertilizer is best applied with irrigation water, halving the manufacturer’s recommended dose. The standard frequency is once every 10 days.
Staghorn fern can be fertilized in the following ways.
- fertilizer for ferns or ornamental foliage plants
- alternating mineral and organic fertilizers.
Pruning and shaping of Staghorn fern
Be very careful when removing damaged, dried-out Staghorn fern leaves. Even when transplanting, useless brown leaves must not be touched; they must be left in the bed and handled as gently as possible. On the other hand, leaves containing spores are cut off at the base or healthy tissue as usual.
Transplanting, containers and substrates
When growing on wood blocks and bark, transplant young pintos each year to remove damaged roots. In pots, for older, larger plants – as they grow.
All species grow well on blocks or bark, in pots. Platycerium can be grown in hanging baskets. Typically, single-sided ferns are grown in plastic pots with grooved sides.
The fern is neatly attached to the bark or block by wrapping the roots in lithophanic soil.
When planting in pots and baskets, choose a coarse humus substrate. A substrate for begonias and cacti with charcoal soil or at least an orchid substrate (of complex composition, not pure bark) is ideal at home. Mix equal parts compost (humus) and peat, bark, or gypsum if mixing your own mixture. Roots and leaves (especially dry ones) should be handled with care.
Pests and problems in cultivation
This fern will only get sick if the conditions or care rules are not met, especially in dry air. In uncomfortable dry conditions, the foliage can wilt and die very quickly.
The most dangerous enemies are the fern scales, which form entire colonies on the back of the leaves. This is not uncommon on Staghorn fern.
- fern aphids, which cause nectar, rapid yellowing, and drying of the leaves.
- Mealybug (clearly visible on the abaxial surface of the leaves)
- greenhouse thrips (showing rust and white spots and poor growth)
- Strawberry and chrysanthemum nematodes (showing necrotic spots and curling of leaves)
- Spider mites (green discoloration, yellowing, shedding).
If the first insects are found, you can remove them by hand and treat them with a soap and alcohol solution. But usually, only insecticides will help. If infested with nematodes, the plant will have to be destroyed.
It is not uncommon for Staghorn fern to have spots, which can only be treated with fungicides.
Propagation of Staghorn fern
Cultivation of Staghorn fern fungus from spores is very difficult and requires sterility. The spores can remain germinated for many years. They germinate in Petri dishes in compacted, sterilized peat-sand composted soil and treated with fungicides. The seedlings are very sensitive and not easy to maintain.
Separating adult, overgrown Staghorn fern and using their roots to separate young lateral plants are the most productive and easiest propagation method. When dividing, be careful to cut off the branches with a sharp blade without damaging the barren leaves around the mother plant. During the first weeks of acclimatization, water the ferns more carefully but as much humidity as possible.