Staghorn Fern Care

Botanical Name: Platycerium bifurcatum 

Antler-like fronds give staghorn fern its common name. It's also known as elkhorn fern. Staghorns grow as epiphytes in tropical Australia, growing on tree trunks. 

staghorn fern, Platycerium bifurcatumAs a young plant, eye-catching staghorn fern can be grown in a pot. Photo © Lawcain

This stag horn fern actually has 2 types of fronds. Those at the base of the plant are flat, round and light green, turning brown as they age. Epiphytes in their native habitats, staghorn ferns cling to tree trunks taking in nutrients from fallen leaves and other debris that gets trapped behind these slightly curved sterile fronds.

The second type of fronds are fertile, growing from the basal fronds and can reach up to 3 ft (90 cm) long. These deeply lobed fronds resemble staghorn deer antlers. They are green, covered with white, felty scales. 

You can keep your young plant in a pot, but eventually the basal fronds will cover the growing medium making it difficult to water from the top. Don't saturate these fronds with water because they'll rot easily. Water pots from below by setting pot in a tray of water for 15 minutes.

Transplanting. When your fern grows bigger, you may want to hang it in a sphagnum moss-lined wire basket or mount it on tree bark or a slab of wood, which is closer to how these ferns grow in their native habitat.

Mounting staghorn fern. Place a few handfuls of damp sphagnum moss or orchid mix on a piece of bark or (untreated) wood board. Place the fern over the mound of medium, so that the flat, round basal fronds are touching the board. Use twine, wire or fishing line to firmly hold the fern to the board.

staghorn fern, staghorn ferns, platycerium bifurcatum

Where to Buy Staghorn Ferns

Finding staghorn ferns for sale may be challenging. Because of their unusual growing habits and need for high humidity, they are not common. Unless you live in a tropical region, your best bet is to buy these ferns online.

Staghorn Fern Care Tips

Origin: Tropical Australia

Height: Trails up to 3 ft (90 cm) 

Light: Stag horns fern grows best in bright, indirect light. Strong summer sun will damage its fronds.

Water: Water thoroughly, allowing medium to dry out between waterings. Water potted plants from below for 15 minutes. For mounted ferns, plunge the root portion into room-temperature water for 15 minutes, then drip-dry. It is better to err on the dry side -- mature plants are more tolerant of drought than soggy medium, which can cause root rot.

Humidity: Prefers moist air. Dry indoor air will cause brown tips. Mist the fronds regularly with room-temperature water to keep the humidity high. However, don't allow the base of the fern to stay wet, which may cause it to rot. If humidity drops dramatically in winter, use a cool-mist room humidifier.

Temperature: Average room temperatures 65-75°F/18-24°C are ideal. Staghorn fern will tolerate a minimum of 55°F/13°C. 

Soil: Sphagnum moss or medium specially made for epiphytes such as bromeliad or orchid mix.

Fertilizer: Feed monthly in summer with a balanced (such as 10-10-10 NPK) foliar fertilizer or add fertilizer to water and plunge the rootball portion into the water for several minutes.

Propagation: Staghorns produce a large number of offsets -- called pups -- that can be carefully removed and mounted separately. These ferns can also be propagated from spores that grow on the tips of the lobed fronds, however the spores are slow and difficult to propagate and is not practical.

  1. Home
  2. Houseplants A-Z