Staghorn ferns are ‘epiphyte’, meaning that they grow on tree branches and trunks naturally. These can grow fairly large, although they require at least 10 years to achieve their maximum size. These are native to several Pacific islands in the southern hemisphere, although they have been introduced throughout most of North America as an indoor greenhouse plant (The Missouri Botanical Garden has a few in their larger tropical house, and multiple staghorn ferns reside in SIU Carbondale’s greenhouses). This species has been reportedly invasive in Hawaii.
Platycerium bifurcatum (Common staghorn fern, Elkhorn fern) [P. alcicorne]
Hardiness Zones: 9-12
Height: 2-3 feet tall
Diameter: 2-3 feet wide
Growth Rate: moderate
Age: Achieves maximum size between 10 to 20 years.
Root System: fairly small
Tolerates: Succumbs to almost no pests. Invasive in Hawaii.
Problems (major): The biggest dilemma is successfully placing one of these vertically, adding soil around it, and watering it. These typically grow on trees or at sharp elevations. Hanging baskets are probably the best option for growing these indoors.
Problems (minor): Scaly bugs and mealy bugs can be problematic. Ladybirds (ladybugs) eat these pests.
Soil requirements: Sphagnum or loam is preferred. Fertilizers with a 1:1:1 ratio work best.
Air Requirements: Warm, humid air fits the temperature requirements and helps keep the roots wet.
Watering requirement: Medium, the roots must remain moist for the plant to be healthy.
Sun requirement: part-shade (full sun will damage these)
Fiddleheads present: no
Compound fronds: no
Tree Fern: no
Blade length: Sterile fronds (called ‘basal’) are smaller, usually 12-30 centimeters in legnth. Fertile fronds (called ‘foliar’) are larger, up to 90 centimeters. The fronds overlap each other pretty extensively.
Rhizome length: small, no more than a few centimeters
Growing as an epiphyte, the existance of these ferns is rather peculiar. They almost always grow on host tree branches or trunks in the wild, although they usually live in hanging baskets indoors. They produce two types of fronds, a smaller sterile variety and a larger fertile type. Staghorn ferns produce a large number of seperate fronds and can be reproduced by removing offsets (occasionally known as “pups”).
Used as a specimen plant or occasionally an ornamental indoors. Rarely grown outdoors.
The first two images provided were taken by me on February 8, 2014. All three images may be used for educational or informational purposes, provided that this article is properly referenced.
Additional images of Platycerium bifurcatum at SIUC can be found here: “http://22.214.171.124/cgi-bin/dol/dol_terminal.pl?taxon_name=Platycerium_bifurcatum&rank=binomial”. The database for their living collections is: “http://www.plantbiology.siu.edu/facilities/plant-biology-facilities/greenhouse/living-collection/index.php”