Staghorn Fern Mounts: Growing Staghorn Ferns On Rocks
By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Staghorn ferns are fascinating plants. They live epiphytically in nature on trees, rocks and other low soil structures. This ability has led collectors to mount them on driftwood, rocks, or other materials that allow adherence. These plants are native to Africa, southern Asia and parts of Australia. Mounting staghorn ferns is relatively simple, provided you remember the plant’s growing requirements.
About Mounting Staghorn Ferns
It is a wonderful surprise to find a plant hanging on a wall or living in an unexpected place. Mounts for staghorn ferns provide the perfect opportunity to create just such unexpected delights. Can staghorn ferns grow on stones? Yes. Not only can they grow on stones but they can be mounted on a myriad of objects. All you need is a little imagination, sphagnum moss and some wire.
Staghorn ferns have sterile basal leaves called shields. They also have foliar fronds which will get fuzzy brown growth on them that are sporangia or the reproductive structures. In the wild, these plants may be found growing in old walls, crevasses in rock faces, in tree crotches and any other handy location.
You can mimic this by tying the plant to any structure that appeals to you. The trick is to tie it on loosely enough that you don’t damage the plant but securely enough for vertical display. You can also mount the fern to a base structure to lay horizontally. Growing staghorn ferns on rocks or boards is a classic method of display that really mimics the way the plant grows in nature.
Rock Mounts for Staghorn Ferns
Growing staghorn ferns on rocks is an unpredictable method of mounting these tropical plants. As epiphytes, staghorns gather moisture and nutrients from the air. They don’t really need potting soil but do appreciate some organic cushioning such as sphagnum moss. The moss will also help indicate when it is time to water. When the moss is dry, it’s time to water the plant.
To make rock mounts for staghorn ferns, start by soaking several handfuls of sphagnum moss in water. Squeeze out extra moisture and place the moss on your selected stone. Use fishing line, wire, plastic tubing, plant tape or whatever you choose to loosely bind the moss to the stone. Use the same method to affix the fern to the moss. It is that simple.
Mounting Staghorn Ferns to a Vertical Wall
These remarkable plants make an attractive addition to an old brick or rock wall too. Keep in mind they will not survive cold temperatures, so outdoor mounting should only be done in warm climates.
Find a chink in the wall, such as the area where mortar has fallen out or a natural crack in stone. Drive two nails into the area at a space that will flank the edges of the fern. Affix sphagnum moss with a bit of aquarium cement to the wall. Then tie the fern to the nails.
Over time, new large foliar fronds will cover the nails and material used to tie it on. Once the plant begins to spread roots into the crack and has attached itself, you can remove the ties.
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Read more about Staghorn Ferns
Mounting a Staghorn Fern
This is how to mount a Staghorn Fern
Staghorn ferns are uniquelly shaped ferns that grow in bright light (not direct sun) and create their own "container". I was confused on the method of hanging this particular plant, as the rounded sterile leaves cup around it's support and eventually create it's own container. Additionally, most of the ferns I see in landscapes are hung sideways verses the typical upright manner of hanging a container plant. Here, I've explained the process so a staghorn fern beginner, such as I, can easily mount and enjoy this lovely tropical beauty!
Gather your materials: Sphagnum moss, bowl of water, scissors, fishing line and board (you might also use a wire or wood basket instead of a board, and panty hose instead of fishing line - see the photos)
Step 1. Soak the moss in a bowl of water for a few minutes to become moist.
Step 2. While holding the staghorn fern in one hand, place a handful or two of wet moss onto the bottom of fern, underneath the sterile dish-shaped leaves. Secure the moss to the fern by winding fishing line around and around, similar to winding a ball of yarn. Cut the fishing line and tie it off.
Step 3. Place the moss/fern onto the board and secure with fishing line by wrapping around and around until secure. Cut the line and tie it off.
Step 4. Hang the fern in a brightly lit area, but not in direct sun. Water whenever the moss feels dry, but not dried out.
You can use just about any type of material to mount. I've seen ferns attached directly to a tree or rock without a starting container or board. One of my friends used an old palm frond instead of a board, and I've also seen drift wood used. The ideas are endless. In the end, the "container" or mount will be covered anyway. Enjoy!
All About the Staghorn Fern
The staghorn fern is a plant that has distinctive fronds or divided leaves. In the wilderness, staghorn ferns usually grown on and around other trees, and they are therefore called epiphytes. The fern bears 2 different types of fronds and is native to tropical areas of Asia, Australia, South America and New Guinea.
Fronds on Staghorn Ferns
The fronds on a staghorn fern are separated into basal sterile fronds and foliar fertile fronds. The basal fronds collect materials such as water, leaves and organic debris. This material gradually breaks down and forms nutrients that can be absorbed easily by the plant. The foliar fronds disperse spores in the wind, which germinate and produce new staghorn ferns. The staghorn ferns make them highly valued and sought after because of this distinctive frond structure.
Growing Staghorn Ferns
Staghorn ferns cannot survive freezing temperatures. They are therefore not good choices as garden plants in areas that experience harsh winters. You can, however, grow them as houseplants. These plants grow best in shaded areas or spots that receive filtered sunlight. This emulates the type of sunlight the plant would receive in the wilderness, through the canopy of leaves on a host tree. These plants require high humidity to flourish. Room temperatures are adequate for growth, but the plant must be protected from cooler temperatures in the winter.
Mounting Staghorn Ferns
You can grow a staghorn fern for some time in a pot. However, these plants quickly overgrow the boundaries of a pot and you will have to transplant them. It is best to mount the plant on a board and secure it. To do so, evaluate the base of the plant and insert some nails in a pattern that is slightly larger. Soak some sphagnum moss and place it inside the nail pattern. Place the staghorn fern on top of the sphagnum moss. Allow the basal fronds to touch the moss. Secure the plant to the board with some wire or rope by tying it around the nails. You can mount the board from the ceiling or on a wall.
Staghorn ferns cannot tolerate excessive watering. This can lead to rot and leaf problems. To ensure high humidity, periodically spray the air around the plant with water. To water the staghorn fern, plunge the entire plant in a container of tepid water. Water that is warm or cool can be damaging. If your plant is in a pot, check for signs of dryness in the soil. If it is still moist, postpone the watering for a day or 2. If the plant is hung on a board, check the sphagnum moss to see if it is dry before watering. Staghorn ferns require minimal feeding. You can add some fertilizer to the water a couple of times a year. Avoid letting the fertilizer sit on the leaves. If there is any remnant on the fronds, rinse them with water. As the staghorn fern gets bigger, you may have to remount it on a larger board.
Types of Staghorn Fern
There are around 24 varieties referred to in texts on platyceriums. However, there’s some confusion as to exactly how many types there really are. Some varieties have been merged over the years and considered part of the same species, just different cultivars.
It’s generally assumed that, for most gardeners’ purposes, there’s actually around eighteen varieties grown commonly. Here’s a short list of some of the most popular varieties you’re likely to find.
This fern is unusual in that each plant has two different types of leaves. The uppermost leaves or “shields” will catch fallen leaves, insects, and other debris to utilize for nutrients while shielding the roots from excess water.
The lower leaves produce spores from which most types of staghorn ferns propagate. Some varieties also make pups or offshoots, and over time can grow to encircle whatever surface they’re growing on.
Platycerium coronarium, ‘Staghorn Fern’, ‘Crown Staghorn’, ‘Elkhorn Fern’, ‘Disc Stag’s Horn Fern’
Platycerium coronarium. Source: Ahmad Fuad Morad
This variety produces two types of leaves. The first is an upright, broad shield leaf, and the second is a long, dangling forked fertile leaf. These longer leaves carry the spores from which the plant propagates.
Platycerium coronarium originates from southeastern Asia, and is an epiphyte, commonly known as an air plant.
Platycerium alcicorne. Source: Ryan Somma
Two leaf types are also common for Platycerium alcicorne, one of which is a “shield”, and the other being a longer, slender frond with many finger-like tips. It’s believed that the shield leaf offers shelter to the root mass to prevent it from getting overly wet in rainforest conditions.
Originating in the tropical climates of Madagascar and eastern Africa, one popular variety is the subspecies platycerium alcicorne var. vassei. At one point, this was referred to botanically as platycerium vassei, but it has since been established to be part of the alcicorne species.
Platycerium andinum, ‘American Staghorn Fern’
Platycerium andinum. Source: FarOutFlora
The only platycerium that is native to the Americas, Platycerium andinum originates around the Andes mountains of South America.
Rather than having a domed shield-shaped leaf, this species has antler-like protrusions for both the spore leaves and the upper protective leaves. These spore-producing leaves tend to be narrower and longer than the upper leaves. It rarely reproduces from spores, producing pups which can grow to encircle the tree the plant is on.
Platycerium bifurcatum. Source: Starr Environmental
With heart-shaped sterile fronds that can reach 18″ in length, and forked, long, arched fertile fronds of up to 36″, this elkhorn fern is one of the most popularly grown. It can be grown outdoors in sheltered locations, but is most commonly cultivated as an indoor houseplant.
Its origins are in southeastern Australia and New Guinea. Like most other elkhorn ferns, this species is epiphytic.
Platycerium hillii, ‘Stiff Staghorn’, ‘Green Staghorn’
Platycerium hillii. Source: AussieBotanist
Shield-leaves are rounded or kidney-shaped with shallow lobes. The stiff staghorn’s fertile leaves are narrower than the shields, but are still wider than other platycerium varieties with shallow lobes as well.
Sometimes referred to as the Australian clumping staghorn, it originates in Australia and New Guinea. It’s said to be related to Platycerium bifurcatum, but has a much shallower forking pattern and smaller shields.
Platycerium elephantotis, ‘Elephant Ear Staghorn Fern’
Platycerium elephantotis. Source: berniedup
Unlike the majority of the platyceriums I’ve described so far, this one definitely has earned its name of ‘elephant ear’, as the normal forking and antler-like shape is nowhere in evidence. Instead, this plant has wide, rounded fertile fronds and tall and arching sterile fronds.
Unlike most platyceriums, this plant prefers consistently-moist soil around its roots. In fact, some growers have reported that wooden posts that they’ve grown their elephant ears on have rotted out due to being constantly wet. They originate from Africa.
Platycerium superbum. Source: FarOutFlora
Another Australian native plant, the Platycerium superbum creates a large nest frond which catches insects or falling leaves to act as fertilizer. From the nest grow longer antler-like fronds which are broad and produce spores for propagation. It doesn’t produce pups, so the only way to propagate it is from spores.
These are quite popular and easy to find, and have dominated the market in some areas of the country as easy-growing epiphytes. However, they are often confused with Platycerium grande, discussed next.
Platycerium grande, ‘Regal Elkhorn Fern’, ‘Moosehorn Fern’
Platycerium grande. Source: robertlafond2009
At one point, Platycerium grande was considered to be a subspecies of Platycerium superbum. However, the grande originated in the Philippines, and its dangling fronds tend to be much narrower than the superbum’s.
When these plants have matured, they can easily create their own curtain of draping, slender fronds which can adorn a wall or freely flow from a hanging container. Their natural habitat is regularly being clear-cut at this point, which makes it difficult to find for sale.
Platycerium ridleyi, ‘Ridley’s Staghorn’
Platycerium ridleyi. Source: Tony Rodd
From the center of the large, textured shield leaves emerges a stalk filled with firm antler-shaped fronds. This is the platycerium ridleyi, a popular plant from Thailand.
This rainforest plant is considered mostly extinct at this point, but can still be found occasionally for sale to collectors directly from Thailand. Its natural habitats have long since lost their growth.
Part of the issue is that unlike most other staghorn ferns, these do not collect leaf litter in their shielding growth. That makes them reliant on ants or other insects for their nutrients. These can also be difficult to grow at home, but are still widely sought by collectors.
Platycerium stemaria, ‘Triangle Staghorn Fern’
Platycerium stemaria. Source: Futureman1
African in origin, this variety tends to fork its draping leaves like inverted Y’s, creating the visual appearance of long triangles. Its upper shield leaves are wavy at the tips and are tall and wide.
When sporing, the spore patches appear like a chevron-shape at the central V of the sporing leaves. This forms a darker patch that can be quite appealing to look at. Some cultivars are extremely dark green, but most are a mid-range green in hue.
Platycerium veitchii, ‘Silver Elkhorn’, ‘French Elkhorn Fern’
Platycerium veitchii var. lemoinei. Source: Ryan Somma
This final Australian species tends to be covered in downy white hairs, giving it a silvery appearance. The tops of its shield fronds grow upwards to form tall, slender fingers. Meanwhile, the fertile fronds tend to be more erect than other species, having an outward extending habit before they eventually droop towards the ground.
In the wild, silver elkhorn is a lithophile, meaning that it likes to grow on rocks in full sun conditions. If grown in shadier conditions, it loses some of its silvery appearance and its more pronounced outward growth.
One variety, Platycerium veitchii var. limoneii, is sometimes referred to as “green veitchii” because it tends not to have the silvery appearance of its relatives.
How to Mount a Staghorn Fern
Staghorn ferns grow as epiphytes directly on living trees and on rocks without soil in tropical climates. They can be successfully grown on wood or other types of mounts with only the slightest amount of organic matter. Mounting is easy. If the fern's roots can stay in contact with the mount long enough, it will eventually attach to it and no longer need to be tied down.
Place the mounting slab flat on a table with the front facing up and decide which part will be the top. Use the wire to make a hook or loop at the top of the mount to hang it up when you are finished. For dense mounting materials like redwood or cypress, you may need to drill a hole to feed the wire through. With softer materials like tree fern slabs, the wire can be pushed through the fibers relatively easily.
- Staghorn ferns grow as epiphytes directly on living trees and on rocks without soil in tropical climates.
- They can be successfully grown on wood or other types of mounts with only the slightest amount of organic matter.
Lay a small rounded mound of wet sphagnum moss in the center of the mount. The mound should be an inch thick and wide enough to extend slightly beyond the diameter of the sterile shield fronds at the base.
Remove the staghorn fern from the nursery pot it came in and carefully knock off the excess soil. Be sure to leave a root mass.
Place the root mass on the mound of sphagnum moss so the fertile fronds are oriented correctly when the mount is hanging from the wire. The sterile fronds should lay as flat as possible against the moss.
Tie a loop of fishing line around the mount and wrap it over the sterile fronds. Continue to wrap the line around the mount and the plant until it is firmly in place with the moss sandwiched between the mount and the bottom of the plant. Do not wrap too tightly because the line will cut through the leaves. Avoid damaging the growing bud where the fertile fronds emerge.
- Lay a small rounded mound of wet sphagnum moss in the center of the mount.
- Tie a loop of fishing line around the mount and wrap it over the sterile fronds.
Tie off the line and clip the excess line with the scissors.
Soak the mount, sterile fronds and moss with a fine spray of water from the hose until completely saturated, then let drip dry.
Hang the plant in a shady location for several weeks before moving it into brighter light in its final growing location. The fishing line can be removed within a few months after several new shield fronds develop, or it can be left on and will eventually be covered by foliage.
When selecting a mount, use a rot-resistant wood such as redwood or cypress, otherwise it will rot quickly. You can also use pottery, or even stone. Some people have had success with plastic mounts.
Choose a mount that will accommodate several years of growth. Some staghorn ferns get very large and may need to be remounted every few years.
Any type of wire or string can be used in place of fishing line, as long as it is not copper and will resist decay for a couple of growing seasons.
Some people choose to nail the sterile fronds to the mount directly with galvanized nails or staples instead of fishing line.
Although the ferns will attach directly to concrete such as walls, this is not advised because the roots will cause the concrete to crack over time.
Staghorn ferns can also be mounted directly on a tree trunk, but this is not advised because they will retain moisture against the tree bark and potentially open the door for rot.