Platycerium (Staghorn/Elkhorn Ferns)
Platycerium are epiphytes, growing naturally on branches and trunks of trees in the tropical and subtropical jungles and rainforests of Southeast Asia, Philippines, Indonesia, Australia, New Guinea, Madagascar, Africa and South America (only one species, P. andinum that is native to Peru and Bolivia). There are popularly cultivated worldwide for their fascinating antler-like fronds.
Platycerium is a genus of about 18 species, with many hybrids and varieties. Species include semi-desert species – veitchii, growing on rocks, and quadridichotomum; wet season species – alcicorne, ellisii, hillii, madagascariens and ridleyii; and the wet+dry seasons species – andinum, bifurcatum, coronarium, elephantotis, grande, holttumii, stemmaria, superbum, wallichii, wandae and willinckii.
These spectacular ferns with uniquely shaped fronds will make an interesting and dazzling attraction in any garden. They are so easy to cultivate and undemanding if given the proper growing conditions that mimic their natural habitats.
Among the many species, Platycerium bifurcatum, native to Australia and New Guinea, is the most common in cultivation, easiest to grow and popularly sold in nurseries.
To the right is a photo of our Platycerium bifurcatum in a hanging pot which has been its home for the past 2 years. Since being relocated a year ago to a bright spot with dappled light and where it gets the rain and dew, this attractive fern has been adding more green fertile fronds and looks delightfully healthy and happy. Previously, when located under the shelter of our porch, receiving neither rain nor dew, it was almost bald due to over watering that had caused most of its fertile leaves to rot and detach at the growth point. The thrice-a-week watering schedule then, plus a weekly drench of the whole plant with the garden hose (to remove dust and provide humidity, so we thought?) must have sped the rotting condition. Humph…our inexperience as we experimented with it during the first year almost led to its demise!
Now, after having research for this article and acquired more knowledge of its cultivation, we are more hopeful of seeing some babies in the future! Wonder how long would it take for the pups or plantlets to emerge? ;)
Plant Profile, Culture and Propagation :
- Botanical Name: Platycerium
- Common Name: Staghorn Fern, Elkhorn Fern
- Family name: Polypodiaceae
- Plant type: Epiphytic perennial ferns.
- Features: Platycerium ferns are slow-growing non-flowering epiphytes with variable and unusual growth habits, producing two distinctly different fronds, basal and foliar fronds.
The basal fronds, commonly named sterile or shield fronds are thin, almost rounded, emerging green which then change to brown and papery as they age and grip onto the growing surface. They grow in overlapping layers, with serrated or scalloped upper edges and stand erect, forming an opened receptacle for water, dead leaves and organic debris that eventually decay and provide nutrients for the ferns.
The foliar fronds, commonly known as fertile fronds, growing from the base of the sterile fronds are green and can be either erect or pendulous, flat and narrow at the base, then spreading widely at the tips where they become deeply forked or lobed with strap-shaped divisions, resembling antlers of a stag or elk, hence their common name, Staghorn or Elkhorn Fern.
Brownish patches of sporangia (spore-bearing structures) are produced on the underside of tips of mature fertile fronds. Both sterile and fertile fronds display a whitish fuzz on the surfaces which are covered with fine stellate white hairs that protect them from insect pests and help conserve moisture.
Other Platycerium features include the growing bud that emerges from the rhizome that is hidden under the shield fronds. The bud, located at the frontal center of the shield fronds, together with the rhizome form the life source of the whole plant, producing both the shield and fertile fronds, plus the growing roots and root mass that are protected beneath the shield fronds.
- Culture (Care): Since Platycerium are tropical and sub-tropical rainforest epiphytes, try to imitate their natural habitat for optimum growth.
Light: Staghorn ferns thrive best in bright locations with dappled light and good air movement, especially under the shade of large trees or indirect light at patio or outdoor porch. They can tolerate only early morning sun, so avoid direct sunlight that can burn their fronds unless they are semi-desert species.
Moisture: Water thoroughly about once or twice weekly during dry and hot seasons and less during rainy seasons, preferably with rain water. Make sure the medium is quite dry between watering. If unsure, probably best to wait until the fern slightly wilts before watering again. Over-watering can cause the fern to rot or be diseased and die. Identify your species, to determine whether it needs low, moderate or high humidity atmosphere so as to provide better care for your plant.
Soil: Use light, well-drained and organic-enriched medium that is most suited for epiphytes. The recommended being a mixture of osmunda fibre and sphagnum moss plus gravel-sized charcoal pieces.
Others: Feed sparingly with a quarter strength of an organic liquid fertilizer. They are relatively pest free except for mealy bugs and scale.
For temperate zones: Hardiness – USDA Zones 9-11. For more in-depth information on Platycerium’s cultivation, check here.
- Propagation: From spores which is slow, difficult and impractical for most gardeners. The other best alternative is careful removal of pups from large Staghorn ferns and replant them.
Removal: Try to remove a pup together with its root system only when it has produced its own fertile fronds for better survival rate. The fern’s roots are in the basal fronds, so use a sharp knife to cut right through the thickened pad of old basal fronds, dividing the root system well for both the parent plant and the pup, mindful not to damage their rhizome and the growing bud which is its life source. If possible, cut at least a minimum of 3 inches away from their growing points. Learn how to propagate Staghorn Ferns using this method here.
Replanting and mounting: There are many ways of replanting/growing these pups. Grow them in hanging pots/baskets with suitable potting medium as mentioned above. Alternatively, the most popular way is to mount them onto palm/tree trunks and branches, dead log or a wooden board and hang in a shaded area with dappled sunlight. To mount, place some moistened sphagnum moss or similar moss at the back of the basal fronds, then fix them onto the mount with encircling fishing line, thin wire, twine or nylon pantyhose, being careful not to damage or tie over the growing bud where new frond emerges. The basal fronds and root system will eventually expand and clasp the growing surface. Check out this site with illustrated mounting instructions.
- Usage: Grow Staghorn Ferns on palm or tree trunks and branches to add beauty to your garden landscape. Planted in hanging pots or baskets, they will be attractive specimen in any garden, at a patio, deck or outdoor living space. Excellent plant for greenhouses and conservatories too.
Other Platycerium links: Check these -
- mgonline for more information (especially on how-to mount a Staghorn Fern) and view more images of Platycerium species (scroll right down and click on named species or numbers that are displayed in black for available images).
- The Platycerium Site from South Africa, by Louwrens Opperman & Roy Vail, covering 18 Platycerium species with much passion. Do explore the site to enjoy the lovely images for all the species and detailed information on some of the various species.
- Charles Alford Plants – Rare Ferns – enjoy yet more images of the Platycerium species and other epiphytes.
Update: April 16 2009
Yippee! Our Staghorn Fern has finally produced 4 pups!
We’re absolutely exhilarated and thrilled! Long have we awaited for this event to unfold and it has eventually arrived after almost 3 years.
More lovely images of its babies and how they came about here.
Last edit: June 25 2012