Staghorn Fern Care

Staghorn ferns are a stunning plant to add to any room. They can be grown in pots, orchid boxes, kokedamas, or mounted. So many options! There are 18 different species of staghorn fern, all within the Platycerium genus in the Polypodiaceae family, or the fern family. They're native to the tropics and temperate regions of New Guinea, South America, Africa, Australia and Southeast Asia. Also called elkhorn ferns, this epiphytic genus is comprised of true ferns. They produce spores from the antler-shaped fertile fronds while the sterile shield fronds protect the rhizome and roots of the plant. The shield fronds of some species will also collect detritus, or organic matter, that the plant can use for its nutrients. The shield fronds will be a dull, muted green color when young, then become brown as they mature. The most common species in cultivation is P. bifurcatum, as it is possibly the easiest to grow. Hardy to Zones 9+, some areas of the United States have it listed as an invasive species, so plant with caution if keeping this beauty outdoors. Florida and Hawaii both have begun to see it escape cultivation and end up in the wild with the potential to cause problems. Please check your state before growing outdoors.
light shining through the fertile fronds of a staghorn fern


     Because this plant is an epiphyte, a plant that grows on other plants, they have adapted to shady conditions. Indoors, this means they will do best in an area with bright, indirect light. Outdoors, this means they should not be exposed to direct sun for more than a few hours. Dappled sun and shady areas are best. If being grown in a medium-low light area of the home, it may be best to use grow lights to ensure proper lighting. If the plant receives too much light, it can cause the plant to wilt, dry out too quickly, or even sunburn on the leaves. Too little light will result in a leggy plant and failure to thrive.


     Young plants are often sold in typical potting soil, which is suitable for the life of the plant, as it holds adequate moisture. Many prefer to mount their ferns as they grow larger and more mature to more accurately simulate their natural environment. While this may be beneficial, it is not necessary in order for them to thrive. Though, it should be noted that there comes a size with these ferns where it makes more sense to mount them, rather than increasing pot size. The soil should be rich in organic material and hold moisture well, as these plants do not do well when they dry out. If mounting is more your style, sphagnum moss will hold moisture the best while also not falling off of the mount. The same goes if you were going to be putting your plant into an orchid box. Orchid boxes are made from slats of wood that provide plenty of air to the roots. It is a nice midway point between mounting your fern and simply increasing the pot size as it grows.


A close up of the blue-ish fertile fronds of a staghorn fern

     Staghorn ferns are water loving plants, like many other ferns. They should be allowed to dry slightly between watering, but not allowed to dry fully. There is no hard and fast rule for how often you should water any plant- nature isn't on a schedule. Staghorn ferns uptake water via both their fronds and roots, so misting the fronds between watering will help to prolong the amount of time you have to take it down if it is mounted. To water, soak the roots thoroughly. If it is mounted, this means taking it down from its mounted location, plaque and all. Soak this until the roots are saturated. If in a pot or orchid box, you could either water from the top, or what is more beneficial at times if the shield fronds are hiding most of the substrate, soak the planter from the bottom. Allow mountings to drip dry before returning them to their location. It is also beneficial to spray the fronds down with water while they are soaking to make sure it is getting a sufficient watering. If the fronds begin to blacken or brown at the base, this is a sign of overwatering. Fronds will wilt and become flimsy if underwatered.

     Staghorn ferns, like other epiphytes, love humidity. If being kept in a humid area, watering should happen less often. Cooler temperatures and less light will also contribute to more infrequent watering and vice versa.


     Most plants cannot thrive in pots and planters without additional fertilizer and staghorn ferns are no exception. Fertilizing will promote strong, growth, especially in younger plants. While some suggest slipping a banana peel behind the fronds to fertilize, I advise against this, as it can be a fruit fly issue indoors and isn't an effective way to fertilize that often needs supplementation. Using a well-balanced, water soluble fertilizer is most recommended. Look for even numbers on the box, such as 7-7-7, 1-1-1, 10-10-10, etc. The numbers will help to determine how often you should fertilize your plant, as well as the directions on the box. Lower number fertilizers can be used more frequently, though higher numbers, like 20-20-20, should be diluted to prevent burning. If your plant is still in a pot or orchid box, a slow release fertilizer may be a good alternative to liquid fertilizers.

A large clump of staghorn ferns on a tree in the wild

Mounting and Remounting

     If you want to mount your fern, it will be beneficial to wait until the fern has an established root system. Younger plants do not handle the stress that will occur when moving a plant from a pot to a mount well. While you can buy a fern already mounted, this can make them more expensive and may put them out of budget. Mounting your own fern can be a fun activity! You will need a wooden surface to serve as your mount, your fern, substrate (sphagnum moss or compost work well), something to secure it with (fishing line, twine, or even burlap), and nails or staples. The substrate you add will be sufficient for the life of the fern, so there will not be a need to take the fern down to add more. The wood you use for the plaque will need to be able to be soaked, so unstained wood works best. To begin, loosen the roots of your fern so it will not appear as though there is a pot under the mount. The roots don't have to be loosened completely, just to your desired level. Once the roots are loosened to your liking, place on the mount and surround with your substrate. Install nails for easy securing. Sphagnum moss can be secured with fishing line or twine, though if you are using compost, burlap is the better option. Burlap can be secured with staples, rather than nails. Once the substrate is secured, give your plant a good soak in its new home, drip dry, and hang.

     Eventually, as your fern grows, the shield fronds will cover the mount. It is not suggested to remount the fern to a larger piece of wood. Instead, as the shield fronds make their way to the edge of the board, attach the current board to the larger piece.

Common Problems

     Staghorn ferns are relatively pest-free when kept alone, however if a nearby plant has an infestation, it can transfer to the fern. Spider mites especially can transfer easily from one plant to another. Monitor your plants regularly to prevent pests from getting out of hand. Scale and mealybugs will often hide themselves well in the nooks under the tight shield fronds. It is best to leave the shield fronds alone if there are no pests suspected.

     More commonly, these plants are associated with fungal infections like Rhizoctonia, which presents as black spots on the fronds. It is best to act fast in this situation by treating with a fungicide and lowering the humidity, as the fungus needs excessive moisture in order to survive. Untreated fungal infections can kill your plant.

     At times on mature plants, the ends of the fertile fronds may turn brown in large swaths. Before breaking out the fungicide, take a closer look. This is how the spores will present on this type of fern! If your fern has gone to spore and you are in one of the states where this plant has escaped into the wild, it is best to bring it inside so you will not contribute to the population of invasive staghorn ferns.


Staghorn ferns are an incredibly rewarding plant. They bring a unique look to any room in your home. While they may be a bit tricky sometimes, they're definitely worth the try! As always, if you are worried about your plant in any way, please don't be afraid to reach out.

Happy Growing!

<3 Gina