A staghorn fern, also called an elkhorn fern, is native to the rain forests of Queensland Australia where it’s found growing on rocks and on the sides of trees. Staghorn ferns are unique looking plants and do not resemble any other fern plants. The large, spectacular, thick, outer leaves (“antler fronds”) grow out of the center of the plant and are shaped like elk or moose antlers. These leaves are covered in fine hairs that make them feel a little furry and give a staghorn fern a gray or silver look. The other very different looking leaf at the bottom of a staghorn fern is a brown, cup-shaped leaf (shield frond) that in nature captures nutrients that the plant needs. Outdoors, this frond also helps a staghorn fern cling to rocks and trees. Indoors this cup shaped frond helps a staghorn fern cling to the sides of the container in which it’s planted. Although a staghorn fern can be grown in a pot like any other houseplant, it looks best when mounted on a hard surface like a decorative board and hung on the wall. The bottom frond helps a staghorn fern cling to the decorative board.
Although there are many different species of staghorn ferns, the most popular one used as a houseplant is the Platycerium bifurcatum variety. A staghorn fern is not a good plant for someone who wants a forgiving, green friend that can put up with being ignored or not cared for properly. This plant must be in an area that gets bright, indirect light and you can substitute artificial light. How you water your staghorn fern is very important because over and under watering are the main reasons a staghorn fern dies. Since staghorn ferns are often mounted on boards, the usual ways of watering potted plants won’t work. You’ll need to soak the fern in a sink of water for 10-20 minutes or mist all parts of the plant (undersides of the fronds especially). Follow the care tips below and you will have a staghorn fern, when mounted, looks like a piece of art.
A Staghorn fern grows best in bright, indirect light but no direct sun.
How you water a staghorn fern determines if the plant lives or dies! Check the center of a Staghorn Fern for moisture. When the top 50% of the soil at the center is dry, submerge the entire plant, pot, piece of bark, or basket in a sink of lukewarm water for 10-20 minutes. Green fronds fall off a staghorn fern from over-watering. Keep the soil dryer during the winter. You can also thoroughly mist ALL parts of the plant with a fine spray if you don’t want to try the soaking method.
Feed a staghorn fern monthly in spring and summer with a balanced fertilizer diluted to1/2 the recommended strength.
Temperature for a staghorn fern should be 65°-80°F (18.3°-26.7°C)
Staghorn ferns need plenty of humidity. Place a humidifier next to the plant if the air is too dry and the staghorn fern is not doing well.
Mealy bugs and scale can be a problem for a staghorn fern. Read how to identify and treat mealybugs and scale in the glossary of the website.
The high humidity a staghorn fern needs to thrive attracts a plant disease called powdery mildew. Read how to identify and treat powdery mildew in the glossary of the website.
Orchid bark mixed with potting soil makes a good soil for a staghorn fern. These ferns can also be grown in sphagnum moss that is attached to a piece of wood or bark. The arrangement can then be hung on a wall.
Clay pots of soil and wire baskets filled with sphagnum moss are good ways to plant a staghorn fern. These plants look wonderful mounted to a wooden plank and hanging on the wall. Take your staghorn fern out of its container and cover the entire root ball with moist sphagnum moss. Use plastic covered wire to attach the plant and moss to the plank or board you want to use as a wall hanger.
A staghorn fern is propagated using the plantlets or offsets that develop at the base of the plant. Trying to propagate a staghorn fern by plant division will damage the roots. Read more about how to propagate a plant using offsets in the Glossary of the website.
Poisonous Plant Info
A Staghorn Fern is non-poisonous plant and is not toxic to cats, dogs, or humans.
I recommend inexpensive clay pots for a Staghorn Fern so you can easily break the pot and free the bottom fronds that are clinging to it when its time to repot and not damage the fern.
Yes chemicals in the water can definitely damage the fronds of ferns and many other houseplants. Staghorn Ferns are especially sensitive to manganese, which causes discoloration of the older foliage. Also, never use water that has passed through a softener. It is too salty.
Spots on leaves of Staghorn Ferns can be caused by several types of fungal infections, from blight and leaf-spot to mold or mildew. These infections are the result of over-watering or letting water splash on the fronds. You can generally control nearly any type of leaf-spotting problem by removing the affected leaves, providing the plant with better air circulation, and making sure that the area where you’re keeping the plant is not too humid.