Staghorn ferns – a desired exotic beauty

Hooray, spring has arrived! Allow yourself to be swept up in all the blossoming joy and bliss coming to life in your garden. Heritage Day falls on 24 September and doubles up as National Braai Day. A family braai is a fitting celebration of our culture and heritage, especially when surrounded by your own gorgeous garden. Another excuse to plan a braai or even a picnic in the garden would be on Sunday 11 October – Garden Day. So garden-lovers, have loads of gardening fun and get your greens garden day ready. 

Staghorn ferns (Platycerium bifurcatum) are one of those plants that most plant-lovers either have in their garden/home or wish they did. They have been described as the funkiest of ferns with an out-of-this-world appearance due to the drooping leaves, which resemble the horns of a stag. Although they look very majestic and regal when mature, they do look very funky as baby plants.Staghorn ferns love to grow  both outdoors and indoors in coastal and frost-free regions. Although considered indoor plants in the Highveld, they will grow in positions protected from the frost and cold winds outdoors, such as in evergreen trees or on sheltered patios and courtyards.

If the staghorn is already mounted on a log or piece of driftwood, you can place it on a table or hang it on the wall. You can also grow the young plant in its original pot, however, it will later tend to become heavy on the side that the plant hangs over and unless secured will want to topple over. A fun project would be to make your own mounting board. To do this, take a piece of wooden board, about 15cm x 15cm and:

    • Remove the staghorn from its pot and add the sphagnum moss behind the basal leaves and over the roots.
    • Make a pouch with some hessian cloth to cover the roots and basal leaves  so that the plant is held in place by the pouch. The roots will grasp onto the wood surface in time.
    • Use tacks, small nails or a staple gun to secure the hessian firmly to the wood. 
    • Make a hole in the top of the wood to hang it on the wall or use some rope attached behind the wood.

Tip: If you don’t like the look of the hessian or the raw wood, use decoupage or some other creative way of disguising it until the basal leaves cover it over time.

Caring for your staghorn is easy once you know the plant’s needs:

  • Light: Outdoors in the shade, especially in hot, dry climates and in semi-shade in humid areas. They prefer high light areas in the home or on the patio but not direct sunlight unless it is early or late in the day. 
  • Humidity: Bathrooms and atriums provide good humidity in regions with dry air. 
  • Watering: Mist the plants weekly on the leaves and little on and behind the brown basal leaves. In the winter you can reduce watering to every 3 weeks. Some gardeners like to remove the plant from the wall, take it to the sink and let room temperature water flow over the leaves and basal leaves for about a minute. Allow it to drip dry and put it back in its place. If using this method, be sure to allow the roots to dry out between one watering and the next to avoid rotting the roots.

Tip: If the ends of the anther-looking leaves begin to brown, you are probably underwatering, and you will need to increase the misting. If the bases of the same leaves are turning back, you are probably overwatering.

  • Feeding: These ferns are epiphytes and naturally cling to trees. Their roots serve an anchoring purpose with water and nutrients mostly being absorbed through the leaves. Add a balanced liquid foliar fertiliser to the water in your spray mister bottle. Do this once a month during the warmer months and once in two months over winter. Your local GCA Garden Centre can advise you on a good foliar feed. 

Life is a Garden, so enjoy your funky fern and be prepared to pass it down from one generation to the next.