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Splitting Staghorn Plants

By Diane Watkins ; Updated September 21, 2017
Staghorn ferns are popular in hanging baskets.

Staghorn ferns (Platycerium spp.) require little light or care to grow into large plants, adding interest to the home décor. Staghorn ferns can be grown outdoors in the filtered light under a porch or tree and taken indoors when freezing weather threatens. In zone 10, staghorn ferns can be attached directly to trees for permanent outdoor growth. Staghorn ferns are propagated from existing plants by cutting off a small new plant called a pup or by splitting large plants into two or more new plants.

Structure of Staghorn Fern

Staghorn ferns produce both fertile and sterile fronds. The sterile fronds, also called basal fronds, grow in layers around the plant and attach the fern to the growing media. The basal fronds catch water and organic matter that provides moisture and nutrients for the plant. Foliar fronds are fertile, producing spores on the underside of the leaves. Both foliar fronds and basal fronds are necessary to the survival of the plant.

Splitting the Fern

Staghorn ferns grow quite large over time and can be divided into two new plants. Each new plant should have as many whole fronds as possible, splitting the plant into roughly equal parts with both foliar and basal leaves in both parts. The splitting is best done with a sharp knife, cutting between the fronds straight down through the root mass.


Staghorn ferns are epiphytes, needing no soil for growth. The split pieces of fern are mounted onto a slab of wood or tree bark. Alternately, they can be inserted into a wire basket filled with sphagnum moss. When mounting, a cup or more of peat moss or compost is mounded on the wood and the fern is placed so that the basal fronds are touching the wood. Nylon fishing line wrapped around the board and fern holds it in place until the basal fronds attach to the wood. When mounting in a wire basket, fishing line holds the fern in place until the fern eventually grows through the basket. The basket will be lopsided initially, but the fern will eventually grow to fill in the basket. After mounting, soak the roots and board or basket in water for a few minutes before hanging them.


The newly split fern needs a little extra care until it is once again established. The new ferns will do best in a sheltered, shady location. Twice a week watering keeps it moist while the plant recovers. Soak the board and roots in a sink of water for a few minutes, then allow to drain before rehanging.


About the Author


Diane Watkins has been writing since 1984, with experience in newspaper, newsletter and Web content. She writes two electronic newsletters and has a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from Clemson University. She has taken graduate courses in biochemistry and education.