Do you love ferns? Do you love rare plants? Then you should consider a common staghorn fern. The botanical name is Platycerium (broad horn) bifurcatum (twice-forked). This name is an exact physical description of the fronds. This fern is an epiphyte. Some sources say an epiphyte is a plant that grows on another plant but does not receive its nourishment from that plant. Other sources say that an epiphyte is an air plant, which is described as a plant that does not grow in soil. Both definitions accurately describe the staghorn fern.
In its native habitat, Australia, New Caledonia, New Guinea, and Indonesia, the staghorn grows in branches in the tops of trees. The roots attach to the limbs, but are not detrimental to the tree. You can grow a staghorn in a hanging basket or on a piece of rough bark. Remember, no soil! A bed of sphagnum moss in the basket or on the bark is what they require. Saturate the moss between the bark and the fern before attaching the fern with wire. Eventually the papery fronds will envelop the bark and cover the wire.
The fern has two types of fronds. The sterile fronds, located near the base of the plant, are round and flat. They begin pale green but turn brown and papery with age. The fertile fronds are also pale green. They are the fronds that look like a stag’s horns, and they hang down from the plant. On the tips of the fertile fronds are the brown masses of spores. These ferns are very slow to grow from the spores. The mother plant makes pups, and this is the easiest method of propagating.
Staghorn ferns are very easy to grow. They can be grown inside as well as outside. Just keep their preferences in mind: indirect or filtered light, food once a month, and a drink twice a week. Dunking the plant so the water drains off quickly is a very good way to water it. The fronds will spot if they have too much water. During their dormant stage in winter, water even less. Staghorns don’t eat much, yet they grow rapidly with very little care, as they derive nourishment from leaves and airborne materials that fall into their moss and decompose. Bring outdoor plants inside before freezing temperatures arrive.
So if you like a plant that is a one-of-a-kind type and very easy to grow, try the staghorn fern-if you can find one.
Ann Smith, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service