Staghorn ferns, Platycerium, are popular ornamental plants.
They are an epiphitic plant, meaning they usually grows on rocks, trees, plaques or other substrates. They are frequently used as garden features, especially in tropical themed gardens, where they may grow to more than one metre in width, and are widely sought after by plant collectors, as a large, full-grown specimens can take many years to grow to maturity.
The staghorn is native to tropical and temperate regions in South America, Africa, Southeast Asia, Australia and New Guinea. Its name reflects its unique shape, which resembles the antlers of a stag, or male deer.
Staghorns prefer bright, indirect sunlight.
They can handle morning or afternoon sun without any problem, or even full sun, however they won’t grow as big and will look a bit yellow. They will grow on most trees, though they prefer trees with coarse bark.
It is essential that they are well drained and watered frequently in hot, dry conditions. They can survive occasional freezing temperatures, but do better when in a frost-free position. In cooler climates it is best not to water in winter, or only in prolonged dry periods.
Staghorn ferns don’t need any looking after if they are growing on a tree, as they will feed on the leaf litter that falls behind them. Otherwise, a few slow release pellets, or better still, some organic fertiliser a few times a year during summer will be enough.
Repotting and propagation
The best place for a staghorn is of course on a tree
They can be tied onto the tree using an old stocking or strong plastic strapping. It is essential to keep the stocking or strap well below the heart of the plant by at least 30 to 50 mm. With staghorns all new leaves grow directly from the heart so they should never be damaged.
The stocking or strap can be removed after the staghorn has grown onto the tree or board; it may take up to a year to attach itself properly. Our staghorns grow on a hardwood backing board and they will happily grow on it for quite a few years, however, with the moist environment the boards won’t last forever, so it might be necessary to remount the staghorn onto a bigger board.
When remounting don’t be afraid to cut some of the excess back off the staghorn, so long as you leave at least 120 to 150mm in thickness. It is very important to mount the staghorn tight against the new board or the same when tying onto a tree. Shape the staghorn to fit tight against the board or tree without any large air pockets. If there is some space between the board or tree and the staghorn you can fill it in with old leaves packed tight.
Tips for growing
The Platycerium bifurcatum (elkhorn) and Platycerium Superbum (staghorn) are native to Australia, making them the most commonly available staghorns on the market, and is not a difficult plant to grow and maintain.
If kept indoors, they should be misted frequently to maintain humidity during the warm, growing months. They are more tolerant to cold conditions than most people expect, and the larger plants can go for quite long periods of time without water. The brown, flat leaves at the base of the plant should not be removed, as they are essential to the health of the plant.
Problems and pests
Staghorns are hardy plants and not prone to many insect problems.
They can be attacked by grubs (larvae) the grubs will make little holes in the plant and hide behind the leaves making them difficult to catch. They come out at night and climb to the top of the plant to cut of small pieces of leaf, so this is the best time to get them.
The most common problem is overwatering especially in winter or cooler climates, if your stag develops dark brown or black area’s around the heart it is most likely too wet and maybe also in too dark a spot; always allow it to dry out a little in between watering, and if your staghorn is on a tree in the garden, only water in prolonged dry spells.
Staghorns in the winter months
Staghorn care in Australia varies during the different months of the year and one way to keep your plants looking their best during Winter is to understand the right growing conditions.
Colder areas will require better protection in the winter months: First of all, protect your plant from frost damage by moving it if possible to a warmer spot. If this is not possible you could wrap it in hessian on frosty nights, removing the hessian during the day.
As Australian winters vary in rainfall it is also important to be aware of not over watering your staghorn ferns during this time to avoid fungus problems.
Wet Weather Problems
People sometimes worry that their staghorn ferns were getting to much water, however in general staghorn ferns can handle a few weeks of wet quite well.
Make sure the water can drain out the bottom of the stag if mounted on a board and if the staghorn is mounted on a tree it should naturally drain through the groves in the bark of the tree. If it keeps on raining into the winter months the staghorn could develop some black marks on the front of the plant , however even then it rarely kills the plant and the next leaf will cover the marks in time.
As winter approaches and we begin experiencing colder nights, water your “Staghorn’s” only when absolutely necessary to avoid fungus diseases.
If you have a problem always feel free to contact us – our advice is free.