Staghorn Ferns

Written by Helen Glenn Court
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Named for their resemblance to deer antlers, the staghorn ferns (Platycerium) are distinctive and low maintenance additions to any garden. There are 18 species and hundreds of cultivars. Many of them will grow readily across the United States, given the right conditions, which include filtered light and mounting on bark. Staghorns are not, however, parasites. They are instead self-sustaining epiphytes.

Looking at Staghorn Ferns

The giant staghorn (Platycerium superbum) is not only spectacular but easy to grow. Its crown fronds are sterile, deeply lobed, and gray-green. The flat fertile frond forms the massive base of the plant, extending out and slightly down from the bud and is divided by large spore patches. The crown fronds can grow to about four feet, the base frond to about six feet.

Antelope ears (Platycerium bifurcatum) grow to between 18 and 24 inches. When grown outdoors, they should be spaced between two and three feet apart to allow for growth. These are hardy in USDA zones 10 and 11. In lay terms this means that they will not survive subfreezing temperatures. Being evergreens, their fronds are a blue green. Propagation is achieved by dividing rhizomes or herbaceous stem cuttings.

The green or stiff staghorn (Platycerium hillii) has wide, fertile, and glossy green fronds that grow downward between two and three feet. The base frond (shield) is rounded at the top. In its native wild in northern Australia and New Guinea, this fern exhibits clump growth patterns. In the United States it is hardy in USDA zones 10 and 11 and, to a lesser extent, in zone nine.

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