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How to Grow and Care for Staghorn Fern (Complete Guide)

Staghorn ferns hanging on a pot on the roof of a greenhouse

Are you struggling to keep your staghorn fern thriving? Trust me, I get it. My initial attempt at cultivating these distinctive ferns was far from a walk in the park. I want to share some key insights and tips I’ve gathered along the way that might help you on your staghorn adventure.

Thankfully, with solid horticultural insights and plenty of patience, I learned the ropes. And now, I am happy to share my tips for growing and maintaining a robust staghorn fern.

Understanding Staghorn Ferns

Staghorn Ferns, part of the Polypodiaceae family, are unique epiphytic plants native to Asia and Australia. These ferns are known for their striking anatomy – they boast two distinct types of foliage: shield fronds and antler fronds.

As epiphytes, staghorn ferns don’t require soil to grow; they’re often found clinging to trees in their natural habitat. Understanding these unusual traits is crucial to providing optimal care in a home or garden setting.

Staghorn ferns derive their name from the horn-like appearance of their fronds. These elongated fronds give the plant a distinctive and captivating aesthetic. Different species of staghorn ferns may have variations in the shape and size of these fronds, from the triangular staghorn fern to the elephant ear staghorn fern.

Staghorn Ferns as Epiphytes

Dwelling on tree trunks or branches, staghorn ferns live as epiphytes. This means they hold onto other plants for physical support but don’t absorb their nutrients. Instead, they gather nourishment from the air, rainwater, and any decomposed matter that lands on their roots.

Staghorn ferns living as epiphytes attached to a tree trunk

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Their unique growth pattern allows these ferns to thrive without soil beneath them! This adaptability is perfect for mounting indoors – whether on a wooden plank or moss-covered board – bringing a refreshing slice of nature into your living space!

Anatomy of a Staghorn Fern

Staghorn ferns, hailing from the Polypodiaceae family, showcase a unique anatomy unlike any other plant. These epiphytic plants have two distinct leaf forms: shield and antler fronds.

Shield fronds are round, flat structures that directly attach to the mounting surface, providing support and anchorage for the plant while creating debris traps for nutrition absorption.

On top of these lie the impressive antler fronds, which give these plants their signature deer-like silhouette. These fronds function in proper photosynthetic form, transforming captured sun rays into much-needed energy for growth and development.

Closeup view of the green leaves of staghorn ferns

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Every part of this incredible green canvas complements each other harmoniously, giving Staghorn ferns an unconventional beauty suited exceptionally well as wall decor or hanging foliage inside homes or in sheltered outdoor spots.

5 Must-Knows in Growing Staghorn Ferns

In growing Staghorn Ferns, you need to consider factors such as the light conditions, with partial sun exposure recommended. The fern prefers mounting on well-draining materials rather than being planted in soil.

Watering is vital – aim for moist but not saturated roots to prevent root rot. It thrives best in temperatures between 55-85°F and high humidity levels; if dryness is an issue, adding a humidifier or frequently spritzing your plant should do the trick.

Lastly, apply water-soluble fertilizer during active growth periods according to product label instructions, guaranteeing its lush appearance!

1. Ideal Light Conditions

Staghorn ferns relish consistent, shaded light. Direct sunlight can be too harsh and cause damage to their delicate leaves. Despite this preference for shade, these ferns can handle increased exposure if they are provided enough water and adequate warmth and humidity.

The best way is mounting them on organic matter such as peat or moss, which boosts their health without needing additional soil. With attention given to these light conditions and mindful nurturing, Staghorns will thrive splendidly!

Staghorn ferns on a tree trunk with indirect light from the sun

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

2. Soil and Mounting Preferences

Staghorn ferns thrive best when mounted on organic materials such as peat, compost, or moss. As naturally epiphytic plants, they prefer not to be in traditional soil but instead attached to a substrate that can hold moisture.

Selecting the appropriate growing medium is crucial for staghorn ferns.

Using wooden board

You can elegantly display your staghorn fern by mounting it on a wooden board and hanging it indoors for an infusion of green decoration into your living space. The bark slab or wooden board mimics their natural growing conditions in the forest, where they latch onto tree trunks or rocks.

Enclose the root ball with sphagnum moss before fastening it together using a fishing line or thin wire, ensuring secure support for these epiphytic wonders!

Using baskets

Using cedar baskets is also a good choice, as cedar is known for its natural resistance to rot. When mounting your staghorn fern in a basket, use secure fastening materials to attach it firmly. A good rule of thumb is to use wire or strong nylon straps, avoiding materials that may degrade over time.

Many enthusiasts use wire baskets lined with sphagnum moss or a coconut coir-based medium to provide these plants with the necessary support and moisture retention.

3. Watering Guidelines

Proper watering is critical to the health and longevity of a Staghorn fern. This unique houseplant survives excellently under precise conditions regarding moisture. Here are some guidelines to meet its peculiar watering needs:

  1. Ensure the roots have dried out thoroughly before rewatering.
  2. Stay away from both underwatering and overwatering. These scenarios can lead to fronds wilting or turning black.
  3. Pour water slowly at the base of your mounted fern, taking care not to saturate it too quickly.
  4. Always let the plant drip dry after watering, which prevents saturated roots and eventual damage.
  5. Focus on maintaining consistent moisture levels rather than a strict schedule, as indoor conditions fluctuate rapidly.
  6. Consider using methods like spritzing the plant or employing a humidifier for indoor gardening, especially during drier periods or regions.
Young staghorn ferns with green leaves growing on a tree

Photo Credit: Dreamstime.

4. Temperature and Humidity Requirements

Staghorn ferns flourish in a tropical atmosphere and need warmth and humidity. Maintaining the correct temperature between 50 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit is crucial for their survival.

To thrive, staghorn ferns require a humid environment similar to their native habitats. During the warmer months, a regular shower or misting the plant can help maintain the necessary ambient humidity. However, reducing watering during cooler months is essential to prevent overwatering.

If you live in cooler climates, consider moving your fern indoors during chillier months to avoid freezing temperatures. Humidity is equally essential, mimicking the lush rainforests where Staghorns naturally grow.

You can increase the moisture level around your plant by placing it near naturally humid areas like bathrooms or kitchens or using a small-scale humidifier to keep things moist but not soggy.

5. Fertilizer Recommendations

Feeding your staghorn fern comes with specific guidelines to ensure a healthy plant. Utilize a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer for best results. Administer it monthly during spring and summer growing seasons to promote enhanced growth.

This process works optimally when mounted on organic material like peat or moss rather than additional soil. Carefully follow product label instructions when applying fertilizer; too much can harm your fern.

Lush green leaves of staghorn ferns growing in a vertical wall garden

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Propagating Staghorn Ferns

The beauty of staghorn ferns is not only in their unique appearance but also in the ease with which they can be propagated; follow these steps for successful propagation that will expand your indoor gardening horizons.

One of the most intriguing aspects of staghorn ferns is their reproduction through “pups.” Pups are small offshoots that grow from the base of the plant, resembling miniature versions of the mature fern. These pups can be carefully detached and potted separately, allowing you to expand your staghorn fern collection.

Seedlings of staghorn ferns on black seedling pots

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Techniques for Successful Propagation

Successfully propagating Staghorn ferns involves some crucial steps that I’ll highlight below:

  1. Start by choosing a mature Staghorn fern with a healthy-looking antler and shield fronds.
  2. You can propagate through division – carefully divide the large plant into smaller sections, each with its leaf and root ball.
  3. Once you’ve divided the plant, planting each section in its peat and compost pot encourages the process of rooting.
  4. Proper watering is vital in this period; allow the base of your new fern to dry out slightly between waterings to prevent saturation.
  5. An ideal environment for growth is warm and humid; maintaining a temperature range between 50 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit will provide that environment.
  6. Supplying your fern with monthly fertilization will stimulate significant growth; use a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer, particularly during spring and summer when it is in active development.
  7. Watch for common pests such as spider mites, aphids, or mealybugs that may disrupt successful propagation.
Large staghorn ferns on an oak tree under the sun

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Types of Staghorn Ferns

Staghorn ferns belong to various species, each with unique characteristics and preferred environments. Some species are native to Florida, while others are found in Hawaii, the East Indies, and New Guinea. Understanding the specific requirements of your staghorn fern species is essential for their optimal growth.

In this section, you will explore the wide assortment of Staghorn Fern varieties, each flaunting unique leaf structures and interesting features that enhance your green décor. Keep your eyes glued to discover more about these intriguing epiphytic plants.

3 Common Varieties of Staghorn Ferns

Staghorn Ferns come in various types, each with unique characteristics that can add to the beauty of your indoor garden. Some of these include:

1. Platycerium bifurcatum: This type is popular among houseplant enthusiasts, also known as the Elkhorn Fern.

Platycerium bifurcatum (Elk Horn Fern) on a tree with indirect sunlight

Elkhorn Fern (Platycerium bifurcatum) – Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

2. Platycerium alcicorne: Known as the Antelope Ear Fern, this type possesses elongated fronds that differentiate it from others in its family.

Closeup view of Platycerium alcicorne (Antelope Ear Fern) with elongated green fronds growing on a tree

Antelope Ear Fern (Platycerium alcicorne) – Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

3. Platycerium grande: This fern brings significant impact with its broad fronds that can reach an impressive six feet long! It’s often called the Elephant Ear Fern because of its size.

Platycerium grande (Elephant Ear Fern) growing on a tree

Elephant Ear Fern (Platycerium grande) – Photo Credit: Dreamstime.

Common Problems with Staghorn Ferns

Even the most diligent gardener may encounter issues with staghorn ferns, including pest infestations and diseases.

Pests and Diseases

Like many houseplants, Staghorn ferns can fall victim to several common pests and diseases. These unwanted invaders can damage your plant and hinder its growth. Here’s a list of issues you might come across:

  • Spider mites: These tiny pests suck the sap from the leaves, causing yellowing or wilting.
  • Aphids: They infest plants by sucking juices from new growth, which results in distorted leaves.
  • Mealybugs: Dressed in cottony white mass, these bugs drain fluids from the plant, interfering with overall health.
  • Overwatering: Too much water robs oxygen from the roots, leading to root rot, which is lethal for staghorn ferns.
  • Underwatering: A lack of water causes fronds to brown or wilt at tips.
  • Black spots on fronds: Excessive humidity or traveling spores can cause these black spots. I use neem oil or natural fungicides to treat such issues.
Large staghorn fern growing on a tree in the forest

Photo Credit: Dreamstime.

Troubleshooting Tips

Navigating the care of staghorn ferns can be tricky, so here are some troubleshooting tips to help:

  1. If your fern’s fronds turn brown, you’re likely overwatering it. Cut back on water and monitor the plant for improvement.
  2. Conversely, if the plant’s fronds become wilted or blackened, it may indicate underwatering or exposure to freezing temperatures. Adjust your watering routine and keep the plant in a warmer area.
  3. If you see tiny black spots on your staghorn fern, direct, harsh sunlight might be causing sunburns. Shift the location to a less exposed area with sufficient indirect light.
  4. Remember that spider mites, aphids, and mealybugs can invade your plant. Use a natural fungicide or neem oil as treatment against these pests.
  5. If your mounted fern has regularly saturated roots or an oversaturated root ball, fine-tune your watering method to avoid root rot.
  6. Fronds attached poorly to their base are unstable and might fall off easily; secure them with a fishing line or wire.
  7. Staghorn ferns installed on landscape trees may suffer from hardiness zone changes and insufficient moisture; bathroom or kitchen placement could provide better humidity control.

Tips for Maintaining Staghorn Ferns

To keep your staghorn ferns thriving, establish a regular care routine that includes checking the moisture level of its mounting material, ensuring appropriate light exposure and temperature, remounting when necessary, and managing pests or diseases promptly.

Staghorn Fern (Platycerium) mounted on a brown brick wall

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Regular Care Routines

Caring for your Staghorn Fern involves a simple yet regular routine. These steps will ensure your fern stays lush and healthy:

  1. Water the plant: Soak the base of the fern until it is saturated, then let it dry out thoroughly before watering again.
  2. Provide the right light: Place your fern where it can receive bright but indirect sunlight.
  3. Maintain a warm, humid environment: Your fern thrives best in humid conditions; consider placing it in a bathroom or kitchen where humidity levels are often higher.
  4. Fertilize monthly: Feed your staghorn fern with a well-balanced fertilizer once every month to promote better growth.
  5. Check for pests regularly: Although staghorn ferns are generally free from problems, occasional checks will help catch any possible infestations early.
  6. Prune as needed: Get rid of dead or dying fronds to keep the plant looking its best and allow new growth.

Remounting Your Staghorn Fern

Remounting staghorn ferns is a part of their regular care routine, and it involves the following steps:

  1. First, unmount the fern from wherever it’s currently mounted.
  2. Inspect the root ball for signs of disease or pests and clean off any dust or debris.
  3. Select a new mounting board suitable for the size and weight of your fern.
  4. Lay down a bed of fresh sphagnum moss on the board.
  5. Place your staghorn fern’s root ball onto this moss bed.
  6. Securely fasten the root ball to the board using durable materials like a fishing line or wire, ensuring it’s tight enough to hold but not so tight as to cause damage.
  7. Hang up your newly mounted staghorn fern in an area with bright, indirect sunlight and adequate humidity.
Woman with gloves repotting a staghorn fern from a green pot

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.


1. Can you mount a Staghorn Fern on the wall?

Using a fishing line or wire, you can mount a staghorn fern on a wooden board or bark slab. However, let it drip dry after watering to avoid saturated roots.

2. How do I propagate my Staghorn Fern?

Propagation is achieved through division – separate a piece from the parent root ball and its shield & antler fronds, then embed it onto a peat-and-compost pot ready for rooting under proper moisture conditions.

3. Can staghorns handle outdoor planting?

They love sub-tropical weather! Outdoor planting works best only in hardiness zones where temperatures remain mild all year round, avoiding direct harsh sunlight and freezing temperatures

4. Can I use banana peels for additional nutrients?

Staghorn ferns can benefit from occasional nutrient supplements. Some gardeners use banana peels, rich in potassium, as a natural and gentle fertilizer. Tuck small pieces of banana peel into the moss or growing medium surrounding the plant.

5. What are basal and fertile fronds in staghorns?

Staghorn ferns have different types of fronds, including basal fronds and fertile fronds. Basal fronds are the shield-like structures that anchor the plant to its growing surface, while fertile fronds are responsible for producing spores. Maintaining the health of both types of fronds is essential for the overall well-being of the plant.


Growing and maintaining a Staghorn Fern is an enriching experience that gratifies any indoor gardener. Your attentive care following these guidelines ensures this unique fern will thrive for decades.

Providing the right environment and care for staghorn ferns is essential for their health and vitality. Whether cultivating these remarkable ferns in baskets or mounting them on trees, understanding their unique characteristics and requirements will help you create an ideal habitat for these captivating plants.

Embrace tending to your Staghorn as part of life’s natural aesthetic pleasure. Always remember: successful gardening indeed stands on patient nurturing!


Other Fern Guides from Planet Natural:

The 20 Best Fern Plants to Grow in Your Garden

Maidenhair Fern Care: A Comprehensive Guide

Website | + posts

Melissa Pino is a biologist, master gardener, and regular contributor for Planet Natural. Melissa's work focuses on promoting environmentally-friendly practices, helping people create healthy gardens and finding ways to achieve overall health and wellness.

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