Staghorn Fern Care
By Rob Sproule
Admit it, the plant geek in you loves these things! But where do they come from, how do we care for them and are they safe for our pets? Let’s dig deeper”¦.
“Plant a garden in which strange plants grow and mysteries bloom.”
– Ken Kesey
Staghorns are a plant-geek’s dream. They’re named for the unique shape of their fronds, which make them look like a botanical hunting trophy hanging on your wall. I love them for their stoic independence. They have a bolder, more masculine vibe than other ferns. Those who try them often come to love them, and they become a part of the family as they hang quietly on the wall.
Where do They Come From?:
“Stags” are native to the Old-world tropics (Africa, Asia, Australia). There are over a dozen species that, whether you call them Staghorn, Elkhorn, or Antelope Ears, you’ll never confuse them with any other plant.
They’re epiphytic (live on trees, not soil), and I’ve seen them the size of Volkswagens perched in the Ecuadorian canopy. Organic material falls into their central basin for nutrients and they propagate themselves via pups that sprout from the mother plant (and which can be harvested if you’re eager).
They’ll grow to hundreds of pounds in the wild (far less in your home, thankfully). Platycerium bifurcatum is the easiest species to grow, and the type you’ll find for sale 95% of the time.
Caring for Staghorns:
Stags are unique plants that require a few unique habits. Adopt these, and your living plant art will flourish for generations. Your fern is probably in a hanging basket or mounted on a wooden plaque with either fishing line or burlap. They’re used to absorbing water through their fronds, so keep a bottle nearby and try to mist daily.
Every week or two (more often in summer), submerge them in a sink of luke-warm water for 10-20 minutes, then empty the sink and let them drip dry. Misting is essential but not quite enough; the organic goodness in the root ball needs to stay moist. If it has high humidity (ie a bathroom or above your sink), mist less. If it’s not getting enough misting it will tell you with browning on the ends of its fronds. You’ll need more light than the average fern. Keep it in one of your brighter rooms, just not right against a south or west facing window or it will burn. It’s not a great candidate for offices or basements with little or no natural light.
Periodically, you’ll notice a chocolate-brown fuzz on it’s fronds’ undersides. These are spores, and your Stag is hoping to cast them into the wind. You can harvest them to grow new ones if you’re keen, but make sure you’re very keen. It takes a few years.
Are They Poisonous to Cats?:
This is a surprisingly common question. One day I’ll find the nugget of urban myth that this came from, but for now a simple “no” will do. While I’m at it, they also aren’t toxic to dogs, horses, and that most mischievous of species: human children.