Indoor Plants – The Staghorn Fern and its care.

The first time I saw a Staghorn fern I was amazed! It was a unique looking plant and to grow on a piece of bark? The fern fronds were fuzzy and resembled stag antlers. I had to find out a little more about this plant and add it to my collection. Staghorn Fern
Creative Commons License photo credit: Zesmerelda

The Staghorn is a fern from the Platycerium genus. There are 18 fern species in the Polypod family. Ferns in this genus are widely known as Staghorn or Elkhorn fern because of their uniquely shaped fronds. This genus is epiphytic and is native to tropical areas of South America Africa Southeast Asia Australia and New Guinea. To grow them  in my Zone 5 it would be an indoor plant and I would have to have a humid tropical environment.

In your home, if you want it to grow successfully you need to create the environment it gets in the wild from trees. This makes it very different from other houseplants but if you get used to its requirements its not that hard to grow.

You will usually purchase a Staghorn fern that is ready to hang and grow but if you don’t you need to create an outdoor woody home for the fern. To do this wrap the root ball in a mixture of sphagnum moss and coarse peat moss.

Then you will need to tie the wrapped roots to a slab of bark with string. This will simulate the way Staghorn ferns grow in nature. This is the part I like best about the Staghorn fern. Choosing the bark it hangs from! I will spend a day in the woods finding a unique piece of bark with character.

Hang the fern and bark piece on a wall or from the ceiling. The Staghorn fern requires bright, but filtered light. If you hang the plant in front of a window, which receives direct sunlight you will need to place a transparent curtain over the window. The natural lighting from a window facing a south or east window is the best lighting for the

Water the Staghorn fern by dipping its bark and root ball in a bucket of water. Water only after the bark and root ball are completely dry or the fronds begin to droop. Let the root ball and bark soak up water for 15 minutes in the spring, summer and fall, but only for a few minutes in the winter. After this step I usually let it drip over a pan.

You may need to add additional bark as the roots fill up the first bark piece. You can do this by attaching new bark carefully to the old by nailing or tying it to the old bark. The roots will move into the new bark.

Additional growing tips

Staghorn ferns like temperatures of 65 degrees Fahrenheit or higher and will grow poorly in temperatures that are under 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mist the fronds once a week with a fine mist of soft water. This will wash away dirt and dust and keeps the humidity high around the plant. After you mist the plant gently wipe off any excess water left on the leaves.

The Staghorn ferns roots are naturally adapted for growing in bark and will grow best this way. They really do not do well in ordinary pots and just don’t have the natural artistic look in a pot.

Staghorn ferns do not usually require fertilizer. They will usually get the nutrients they needs from the bark.

When you spray or clean the fronds do not wipe them off with harsh materials like a sponge. Sponges will remove the fronds fuzzy exterior thus damaging the plant.

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35 responses to “Indoor Plants – The Staghorn Fern and its care.”

  1. Mal

    I got one at home, it’s been there for 4 years now.
    thanks for your tips, i will apply it on mine.

  2. admin

    I rarely meet people that have the staghead fern. I really enjoy mine! Denise

  3. Graeme Laister

    Hi CAn U help? We have a large staghorn with a peice of timber in the middle hanging from the ceiling. It has just slipped off the timber and landed on the ground. What do we do, we have been watering it once a week and wondering how to fix it again. We would appreiciate your help. Thanks Graeme

  4. If the roots are still intact, just place it back in the timber again. Add more soil and firm in place.

    I would also place chicken wire or some other support on the timber to help hold the plant in place. The wire will be hidden by the plant and will not hurt the roots. Denise

  5. […] from the air and will grow on the bark of a tree or on moss. My favorite of these air plants is the staghorn fern. Orchids and bromeliads are also popular air plants. photo credit: […]

  6. hank

    what is the best species of bark to use with the stag horn fern or does it matter.

  7. Just make sure the bark is firm and not ready to break up so that it will make a strong base for the plant. Also check the bark for and mold.

    You want a clean mold and insect free piece of bark to start you plant off healthy. Denise

  8. Bonnie Baron

    I have a 75 year old Staghorn in which the ball measures approx.
    4 feet by 3 feet. It is a indoor sunroom plant.

    Unfortunately, before it was moved indoors the stag horn was badly frozen and lost many of its fronds.

    Is it possible to grow new young staghorns on this existing ball of the Staghorn. Bonnie

  9. Denise

    It would depend on the condition of the ball. If its old and look like there might be disease on the ball I would just replace the base and start over.

    Sorry to hear about the frozen plant. Denise

  10. Bonnie Baron

    Thanks for your response. I decided to purchase a couple of young staghorn plants and try attaching them into the existing root ball. There are areas where the bark of the ball have separated. I spread spagnum moss and peat moss into the separation and placed the new plant in the mixture then I stuffed spagnum moss all around the plant forcing it up against the ball of the existing plant.. I plan to keep it moist.

    I don’t know if this will work, but it’s worth a try.

    Thanks again, it is so nice to finally find a source who know about Staghorns, Bonnie

  11. Denise

    Hi Bonnie,

    I have always been fascinated by the staghorn fern.

    From the sounds of it your root ball still sounds healthy and you sound like you planted it well.

    If its not doing well you should know in about a months time. Good luck! Denise

  12. brooke

    hello, i am also a HUGE staghorn fan, and recently acquired and planted a new one. i know i’ve done several things unconventionally, but perhaps you can help me sinlgle out which ones are wrong. first, i planted two little-ish ones together in a little plastic basket similar to one you might go food shopping with. i didn’t have enough sphagnum moss, so i increased the amount of peat moss in the center and filled the rest of the space with straw. then i tied ’em down and hung them in the bathroom. a week later, and the fronds seem to be lightening in color, are limp, and also crinkling at the bottom. everything seems to point to too much water, but which of my mistakes is the culprit? what should i do? also, where can i find sphagnum moss? thanks so much….

  13. Staghorn ferns really do better planted like they would grow in the wild so a piece of bark is the best solution for the happiest healthy plant.

    From the sounds of it the plant is getting too much water.

    The moss can be found in most craft stores and greenhouses with a gift shop or supply center should have the moss too. Denise

  14. Barbara Zinkil

    I just moved to the Birmingham Alabama area from South Florida. I brought my two huge staghorn ferns. Right now, they are outside under trees and quite happy. However, I know I will have to bring them inside for winter. I am debating whether to make room in my garage – it has large south facing windows. Or, whether to purchase a greenhouse. I also have orchids that will have to be brought inside. One of my concerns is moving the largest one. Does anyone have any advice on all of this? I figured when the night tempertures start dropping below 60, that is the time to move them. Or, could I stretch the outside time by covering them at night until the temps go down to 50? (for example). And I welcome any greenhouse advise also. I have shopped online a bit and found plastic wrap type houses that are low cost, but do not appear to make it through many seasons. I am also concerned about how strong the greenhouse is, to be able to support the staghorns hanging from the support structure. Thanks for your advise.

  15. Denise

    I myself would opt for a greenhouse so I could enjoy those winter days that aren’t very nice.

    But if you watch the plants careful they could be moved indoors for the winter. Its always best to move them in a little early and not have them suffer shock from a cold night. Denise

  16. Patty Morris

    Dear Denise,
    Just bought my first stag horn ferns. There are 5 bunched together in a pot, apparently it fell at one time. I need to know how to seperate it. I have your other instructions on how to hang it.

  17. Cynthia

    My father passed away and I now have his large, staghorn fern. The staghorn was in Miami the entire time and now is feeling a little shock with our Central Florida evenings dipping below 55 degrees. I’m trying to figure out where to keep it in my house and how to care for it until it can go back outside. Any help and guidance you can give me would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you,

  18. Denise

    Keep the plant on a warm south or southwest exposure. Cover at night. You may even want to set up a mini cover like a small greenhouse or 3 sided enclosure using clear plastic to help retain heat at night.

    How large is the plant?

    Plants have belong to family members are a great gift. I hope it does well.

  19. mal

    im in australia my mums stag horn is covered in spore at the moment how do i collect the spore and then grow new stags from this spore
    Thank you mal

  20. Rudi Flik

    I have a large Staghorn which I bring in every winter and hang on my bathroom wall.
    I have noticed small pinhead brown scales mostly on the underside of the fern.
    How do I get rid of them before the affect my other plants?


  21. Denise

    Here’s a link that may help. how-to-identify-whiteflies-and-plant-damage

    Overall you need to decide what insect is bothering your plant and use a spray to fix the problem. Brown spcks on the leaves is usually an insect problem in its just spots, and no brown leaves with curled edges.

  22. Vena

    Help, I just received a Staghorn as a gift. I love it. However I have noticed at the end of the leaves it is starting to brown and curl up. What am I doing wrong and whats the basic care for this great plant?
    Thank you

  23. Denise

    Is the plant in a hanging basket or on a board? Do You have it indoors or out? and how often have you been watering it?

  24. Vena

    The plant is in a basket. I had it outdoors until we were hit with some very cold temps. I live in north florida & we were hit with almost 10 days of hard freezes. I brought it indoors off & on for little over a week. I watered it when it apeared dryed out & felt lite weighted. If that make any sense.
    Thank you for your help.

  25. Denise

    I would say its stressed from colder than normal temps and being moved around for a bit.

    How does the soil look? is it wettish, dry, crusty?

    Ok, what I would do is place plastic over it like a mini greenhouse to control the temps better. During the say you don’t want it to hot, but at night you want to keep the temps more even.

    I would place the basket on pebbles and a tray to keep more humidity around the plant.

    I might cut back on water to make sure the plant isn’t overwatered and just rely on humidity around the plant for a week or so.

    A lot of times if a plant has suffered stress, its best to leave it alone for a week or so, them give it a little fertilizer to get back on its feet.

    I would also check the plant out well for any insects but the leaves sound more like damage from climate or water.

    If you have a garden center close by you may want to take the plant there, if you know them. I get to know someone in my local garden centers or at a greenhouse just in case I have a plant care problem. They are usually very helpful.

    Good luck, Denise

  26. I have a staghorn approx 30 years old that was left to us about 10 years ago. We kept it in a greenhouse the first few years and it thrived, since we have moved twice, we are in zone 6, so it must be brought indoors for the winter. Each year it has declined, this past fall I noticed scale, removed by hand (alcohol swab), and I must not have gotten them all as now the leaves have all browned and curled. In a desparate measure to save the plant, I cut off all the large leaves as all were damaged and sickly, fertilized and watered, and started to see new growth at all the shields. But now the new small fronds are falling off, dried. It seems that the ball does not hold water, I leave it in the shower to soak, its really heavy, but within a week is featherlight and very dry again. At what point is this fruitless, and if I decide to add new pups to the ball, should I treat it first to “sanitize” from old scale, etc.? I must save this plant, very sentimental. Thank you!!

  27. Denise

    If you have a greenhouse of floral shop close by, take the plant there. They will be able to take a better look at the plant and possibly help you out. It sounds like it could be a few problems.

    There was one greenhouse here that actually took in sick plants and tried to help them out.

  28. Thai

    I just purchased a stag horn fern at the Santa Barbara Orchid Estate. It was packaged in a large plasitc bag and the fern looked like it was already attached to a large board, so I bought it. However when I got it home I found out that the board (very thin and light) was not attached 🙁 The round flat part??? (name) is 12.5″ across and 15″ from top to bottom. What is the best thing to attach it to. I don’t want it ot be very heavy. I don’t know anything about these ferns and I could use some help understanding all the individual parts and their names so I understand what others are referring to when they talk about their ferns. What is the flat part called. It starts out small and green and then turns brown. Then there are roots underneath in the center of the flat part. I know what the fronds are, I just like to know the technical names. Thanks in advance for your help. Thai Harder

  29. Sherry

    Help! Just got a staghorn fern. It’s small and I can see it is having a hard time. The person had it in some moss in a orchid pot. I need to know if I can put this beautiful plant on a peice of driftwood or the knot of a tree. My son cuts wood for fire and I also have some of that. I can’t find a large peice of bark to put it on. I live in Santa Cruz, California and would appreciate any advise and help.

  30. Gail

    We have a staghorn fern in a basket, and over the years it has grown through and around the basket and now has very little of the original moss or basket material left. It is now made up or three or four plants largely clinging to each other and the metalwork of the basket. Can I safely take the plants apart from each other and start a new basket?

    Thanks in advance for your help.

  31. Mae

    We have a staghorn that is 36yrs old, grew it from a pup which I bought for $l.00. For the last 5 years it has been hanging partially under our lania on the north side of our home. We live in zone 9. We water every 10 to12 days, fertilize every other time and for 36 yrs have feed it banana peels. It is a healthy dark green and is approx. 5ft x 5ft.

  32. Hi:
    We are moving to Northen Mississippi from Central Fl. and I would like to take my Stag Horns which are attached to a Bay Tree (I think) in our front yard. The move is planed 10 weeks from now. How and when should I begin the process? Thx,


  33. greg

    This is the first time on this sight for me,and I live in Bradenton,Fl. I have 3 stag horn ferns ,they hang under my oat tree,one of them is at least 50 years old and two that are 20 or so.A piece of one fell off and I set it under the oak tree and it is growing so I guess I need to put it on sme bark and hang it .We put our banana peels in the plant and they seem to love them.

  34. Matthew

    I “trimmed” my friend’s staghorn yesterday to his horror. His plant was originally grown by his mother starting twenty five years ago. His mother died several years back and this is one of his most precious memories of her. I trimmed almost all of the leaves off but did not damage the root ball. Do you think this plant will live and is there anything I can do to help its survival.

  35. Shaorn

    I have had one for 14 years, it has always outside, even during the winter months and have not had any problem with the cold winters. I am in southwest FL.

    My situation is that it probably now weights about 50 lbs, and i am having to replace the chains holding it up, is there a recommended type of harness to use or can I just do as I have been. Putting a form casing over the chain to prevent it from ripping the ball.

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