Platycerium Fern Plant Identification

Overview

Botanically the platycerium genus, which consists of 18 species, is part of the Polypodiaceae family. Platycerium grow on a host plant, and are known as Epiphytes. They are not a parasite, which lives and grows "from" a host plant; these plants produce their own food, as opposed to a parasite that depends upon the host plant for its food.

Where Found

These unusual plants are found in tropic and subtropical climates, such as Australia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia, Indo China, Madagascar, Bolivia, Peru, West and Central Africa and Burma. These countries have various climates, and not all are suitable to all the species of Platycerium. Some species require extremely wet conditions, some require both wet and dry conditions and others require semi-desert conditions.

Wet Condition Species

Areas such as the Madagascar cloud forests, the tropical rain forests of North Queensland, the West African coast, Borneo, Sumatra, and the Malay Peninsula are home to Platycerium ferns that require extremely wet conditions. Platycerium species that can be found in these areas are the madagascariens, hillii, alcicorne, ellisii, and ridleyii. The Platycerium alcicorné, or moose antler, is found on the West African coast. The name "moose or elk antler" describes the appearance of the alcicorne, which closely resembles the well known staghorn fern. Alicorné can be identified by its 12-inch upright fronds. Due to the wet growing conditions, the top edges of the shields cover the top of the root mass, which is an indication that rain is abundant (the plant does not have to collect water).

Wet and Dry Condition Species

Platycerium species requiring both wet and dry conditions are the coronarium, bifurcatum, willinckii, andinum, elephantotis, to name a few. Platycerium bifurcatum is considered one of the easiest to grow. It can be grown in both full sun and full shade. The fronds of this species vary from narrow to wide. The fronds have a life span of three years, after which they fall off and are replaced by new fronds.

Semi-Desert Condition Species

Two species that are found in semi-desert areas are Platycerium quadridichotomum, which is found in north western Madagascar on the dry side, and Platycerium veitchii, which is found in eastern Australia. Veitchii was named for James Veitch, who in the 18th century founded the Veitch Nursery in Exeter, England. The nursery was known for its orchid collection, which came from for all over the world. Platycerium veitchii is an amazing epiphyte as it can grow on rocks in the desert that reach temperatures of 120 degrees Fahrenheit and in places that receive very little moisture. Veitchii can be identified by its almost white fronds, which are covered with stellate hairs. Fronds cluster on rocks, forming a half-basket shape. The top is open, and the bottom and sides of the half-basket are covered with plants. Mature (dead) shield fronds can reach a height of 4 feet and a width of 2 feet.

Interesting Facts

These ferns form their own water reservoir. It is created by the accumulation of dead/sterile fronds. The reservoir grows larger and thicker as the plant matures. Epiphytes need an organic medium to grow. They produce this organic material through their own dead plant material when the dead fronds drop down behind shield fronds. These dead fronds then decompose, which then constitute the organic medium.

Keywords: platycerium fern plant, desert plants, staghorn ferns

About this Author

Paula M. Ezop’s inspirational column "Following the Spiritual Soul" appeared in "Oconee Today," a Scripps Howard publication. She has published her first book, "SPIRITUALITY for Mommies," and her children's chapter book, "The Adventures of Penelope Star," will be published by Wiggles Press. Ezop has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Northeastern Illinois University and has been writing for 10 years.