Staghorn ferns are beautiful and unique tropical houseplants that have acquired some popularity in recent years, specifically for their ability to be mounted on natural materials, creating stunning displays that grow and develop character over time. These ferns were relatively rare until the subspecies Platycerium bifurcatum was cultivated domestically for the houseplant trade.
Native to tropical areas in South America, Africa, Southeast Asia, and Australia, these plants are actually epiphytes and can naturally be found growing in the crooks of trees. They absorb all the nutrients and water they need through their long, fuzzy, branching fronds. Antler fronds are the upright, branched fronds that give the plants their unique look, but equally important are their shield fronds, which are located at the base of the plant and grow radially to help them hold onto whatever they’re growing on. Older shield fronds turn brown and have a crispy texture but are not dead and do not need to be removed!
These plants may be grown in a soil medium or may be sold this way, but in order for them to thrive long-term they should be acclimated to a well draining medium and given something to affix their shield fronds to, as their root systems are quite minimal and they are susceptible to root rot. The most common medium for staghorn mounting is wood.
To mount a staghorn fern you will need:
- A fern
- A piece of wood, can be a plaque like we used or wood from the hardware store
- Chicken wire
- Sheet moss
- Start with your piece of wood, cutting your chicken wire to account for the size of the wood and the size of the fern you are mounting. Your fern should not be bigger than your piece of wood to start, so a piece of chicken wire twice the size of your mount should be suffice. Using your stapler, start affixing the chicken wire to the mount.
- Staple the edge of the chicken wire in a U-shape around the mount, creating a basket of sorts to cradle the fern within.
- Start lining your basket with re-hydrated sheet moss. It is important to use sheet moss instead of mood moss, or other decorative mosses as sheet moss will spring back to life after being re-hydrated. This will created a symbiotic relationship with your fern and keep the organic materials you are using from rotting from the excess moisture.
- Add your fern and then continue to line the basket with moss until the root ball is completely covered all around. Begin crimping your chicken wire to fit the shape of the fern and your moss, ensuring a solid mount that wont slide around or loosen up.
- Add more moss in sparse spots to fill out your basket, tufting some over the chicken wire to make it less visible. Fold the edges of the chicken wire in around the shield fronds of the fern and staple the ends of the wire to the mount, again ensure it is snug and wont go anywhere once you move it around!
- Voila! You have a beautiful mounted staghorn that will grow and thrive for years to come!
Caring for your Staghorn Fern
Staghorn ferns prefer bright, indirect light and high humidity. North or East exposure, withing a few feet of a window is best, but West or South will work too if you have a sheer curtain or the plant wont receive any hot, direct sun. These plants are very tropical so they prefer high humidity, making them excellent plants for kitchens or bathrooms. Be sure to mist your plant, especially the undersides of the fronds, regularly. Make sure your fern is not placed over a heating vent or near an air conditioner, as they prefer a consistently warm environment, between 60-75 degrees. Any plant will react poorly to extreme changes in temperature.
In order to water your mounted staghorn, you should take it down about once a week and soak it in tepid water in the sink or bathtub. be sure to run water over the entirety of the root ball, moss and fronds. Allow the plant to drip dry and re-hang. Note how heavy the plant is when fully saturated, this will be your best guide to know when to soak again. Watering is dependent on how much sun the plant gets, how warm and dry your home is and what time of year it is. You may have to soak your fern once a week in the summer and as little as once a month in the winter, check in with your plant and figure out the schedule that works best!
If you notice black spots appearing on the shield fronds or at the base of the antler fronds this is a sign of over-watering. Drooping and brown edges at the top of the antler fronds is a sign of under-watering.
NOTE: It is not recommended that you remount a staghorn fern as you risk damaging the roots. Instead you may affix a larger piece of wood behind the original, being careful not to nail through the ferns roots or shield fronds. In the wild, these plants on average can grow up to three feet wide. Some specimens have measured over eight feet wide!!