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Staghorn Ferns

by Lily

Staghorn fern
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Growing a Staghorn Fern

Staghorn ferns are foreign to me, but quite common in S Florida landscapes.  They are commonly seen hanging under large shade trees.  As I understand, plenty of people grow these as house plants, although I'd never seen one until I moved to Florida.

There are 17 species of Staghorn fern, also called Elks Horn or Antelope Ear, due to the unusual antler-shaped leaf.  There are actually two types of leaves on a Staghorn fern. One is the sterile leaf, which is round like a shield or dish.  It is called sterile because it does not produce spores.  Each sterile leaf, as it grows, clasps the support on which it is found.  Initially green, they turn brown and become parchment-like with age.  Besides holding the plant in place, the spaces between the layers of sterile leaves accumulate water and dead decaying vegetation, supplying moisture and humus to the plant.

Staghorn ferns are also unusual due to their growth habit. They do not grow rooted into the ground, they are instead epiphytes -  they “grow upon others”.  Commonly found on trunks of trees or in the crotches of limbs, Staghorns use these plants for support, but are not parasites and do not draw any nutrition from their hosts.   

There are a couple of ways to grow these ferns. Small ferns can be grown in pots until they begin to outgrow these but the most popular way of growing them is attached to a board and hung in a shaded area. To mount a staghorn fern, place the fern on a hardwood board that is wider than the basal fronds. Place a pile of sphagnum moss just below center and and sit the fern on top, allowing the basal fronds to come in contact with the medium while the bud sits just above. Attach the fern securely with wire to the board and then hang.

Staghorn ferns should not be overwatered.  To ensure enough water check the sphagnum moss in the center of the plant. If it is still moist and spongy, leave it for a day or two. If it is drying out then it is time to water again.  If the plant is too wet, it may be susceptible to fungus.

I currently have two small staghorn ferns.  One is hung from a pygmy date palm in the front yard and the other is under my orange tree in the back yard.  I'm learning as I go with these plants.  I hope they'll grow into huge, fantastic specimens! 


Tropical plants, Staghorn Fern


Love this plant! I always admire old staghorn ferns when I see them around town. I've been hoping to add one...maybe on the old magnolia. Never thought of a date palm though. Good idea! That specimen in photo #5 is awesome!
Daylilyjoy commented on 11/02/09
I'm honestly intrigued by this plant! Both of mine were purchased at Lowes...around $2 or 3 each. The large one in photo #5 is obviously not mine! One day.....! :)
Lily replied: on 11/02/09
The Pygmy Date is a fine host for now, but I'll have to move the fern when it gets larger. I'm growing a mango tree that will be large enough when the time is right. And the orange tree should be strong enough to bare the weight, unless the fern because ridiculously large. Like I said, I'm learning as I go!
Lily replied: on 11/02/09