The staghorn fern (Platycerium spp.), an epiphytic, grows on the side of tree bark without the need for soil. It does no damage to the host tree. The plant produces two types of large, flat fronds reminiscent of a pair of moose antlers. Fronds appear either green or brown, in bifurcate or trifurcate flat shapes. Each frond can measure up to 4 feet long. The ferns, found in Africa, Australia and South America, thrive in tropical and sub-tropical locations; 18 varieties of staghorn ferns exist.
Nutrients and Water
The staghorn fern utilizes tentacles, which are similar to roots but absorb no nutrients, to hold onto the rough bark of the tree. The fronds of the plant absorb all nutrients and water. Tiny scales cover the fronds, helping to limit evaporation. The fronds also have tiny silverish hairs that work to repel insects and trap moisture.
In the staghorn fern's native environment, it thrives beneath a dense canopy cover where it receives bright but dappled light, the conditions in which the plant thrives. It enjoys bright light, but only in moderation. When grown indoors, it requires at least 400-foot candles, according to Floridata.
To successfully water a staghorn fern, it needs to be dunked until thoroughly moist once per week. Mix a diluted water soluble fertilizer into the water once per month. Do no use chlorinated water. The plant also likes daily misting of its fronds. If the fern begins to wilt, promptly water it.
The staghorn fern enjoys daytime temperatures in the 70s F and nighttime temperatures in the 50s. Both the P. bifurcatum and P. veitchii can withstand a temperature drop down to 25 degrees for a short time, according to the University of Florida. If temperatures are going to plummet, bring the staghorn fern into a heated garage or house for the night to ensure its survival.
Propagation from the staghorn fern's seeds is very difficult. But removing the tiny "pups" from the side of the plant proves quite successful and easy. The tiny pup can be wrapped in moist sphagnum, and tying it to a bark surface works well. Within a few months, the pup will begin to grow its own root system and attach itself to the surface mount.
Diseases and Pests
Relatively hardy, the staghorn fern can develop a black fungus (Rhizoctonia spp.) on its fronds. It is easily treated with commercially available fungicides. Scale can pose a problem on staghorn ferns. Use a non-oil-based insecticide to remove the scales.