By: Darcy Larum, Landscape Designer
Staghorn ferns are large epiphytic evergreens in zones 9-12. In their natural environment, they grow on large trees and absorb moisture and nutrients from the air. When staghorn ferns reach maturity, they can weigh up to 300 lbs (136 kg.). During storms, these heavy plants can fall out of their tree hosts. Some nurseries in Florida actually specialize in saving these fallen ferns or collect them to propagate smaller plants from them. Whether attempting to save a fallen staghorn fern or supporting a store bought one, hanging a staghorn fern with chains may be the best option.
Staghorn Fern Chain Support
Small staghorn fern plants are oftentimes hung from tree limbs or porches in wire baskets. Sphagnum moss is placed in the basket and no soil or potting medium is used. In time, a happy staghorn fern plant will produce pups that may cover the whole basket structure. As these staghorn fern clusters grow, they will become heavier and heavier.
Staghorn ferns that are mounted on wood will also grow heavier and multiply with age, causing them to be remounted on larger and heavier pieces of wood. With mature plants weighing between 100-300 lbs (45.5 to 136 kg.), supporting a staghorn ferns with a chain soon becomes the sturdiest option.
How to Hang a Staghorn Fern with Chains
Staghorn fern plants grow best in part shade to shady locations. Because they get most of their water and nutrients from the air or fallen plant matter, they are often hung on limbs or in the crotches of trees much like they grow in their native environments.
Chained staghorn fern plants should only be hung from large tree limbs that can support the weight of the plant and the chain. It is also important to protect the tree limb from chain damage by placing the chain in a section of rubber hose or foam rubber pipe insulation so that the chain is not touching the tree bark.
In time, rope can become weathered and weak, so steel chain is preferred for large hanging plants – ¼ inch (0.5 cm.) thick galvanized steel chain is usually used for chained staghorn fern plants.
There are a few different ways of hanging a staghorn ferns with chains. Chains can be attached to wire or metal hanging baskets with ‘S’ hooks. Chains can be attached to the wood on wood mounted staghorn ferns. Some experts suggest making a basket out of the chain itself by attaching smaller pieces of chain together to form a spherical shape.
Other experts suggest making a T-shaped staghorn fern mount from ½-inch (1.5 cm.) wide galvanized steel male-threaded pipes that connect with female threaded T-shaped pipe connectors. The pipe mount is then slid through the root ball like an upside down ‘T’, and a female threaded eye bolt is attached to the top end of the pipe to hang the mount from a chain.
How you hang your plant is entirely up to you. As long as the chain is strong enough to support the staghorn fern as it grows, it should be fine.
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Read more about Staghorn Ferns
07 May How To: Turn Your House Into a Staghorn Fern Party
With leaves shaped like deer antlers, the staghorn fern is one part plant, one part trophy art. It’s flora imitating fauna! As an epiphyte, this plant grows against structures — like trees or DIY frames — for support and protection while drawing its hydration and nutrients from the rain and air, rather than from soil. In short, the staghorn fern is a dream plant for design lovers.
Our fern envy reached a tipping point during our tour of Joe and Cristiana’s garden. We also saw several happy staghorns in Kauai, and even entered into a staring contest with an enormous one at City Farmers Nursery here in San Diego. (Fern: 1, The Horticult: 0.) After picking up a few of our own, we set out to install them in strategic spots throughout our garden.
So, keep reading for some fern-spirational photos, care tips and the DIY instructions…
But first, a note on the name. Although “staghorn fern” and “elkhorn fern” are often used interchangeably, even at nurseries, some hort sources note a distinction between the two. Elkhorn ferns (Platycerium bifurcatum) are known for their skinnier fronds, relative hardiness, and their tendency to group together, whereas staghorn ferns (encompassing species like the spectacular Platycerium superbum, P. grande and P. wandae) are known for more tender varieties, solitary growing habits and foliage that is large and in charge.
Staghorn ferns like this Platycerium superbum at City Farmers Nursery are known for their large fronds and for growing as individuals, rather than in clusters. For that reason, P. superbum doesn’t produce plantlets (pups) the way its cousin does…
The elkhorn fern (Platycerium bifurcatum) has narrow fronds and pups growing together en masse, so close they can appear to be one plant. That said, “elkhorn” and “staghorn” are often used interchangeably.
Staghorn and Elkhorn Fern Facts
– Hardy outdoors in USDA zones 9 through 12. P. bifurcatum and P. superbum are hardy down to 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
– Can reach up to 300 pounds (!!) in weight.
– Prices start around $15 for a smallish to medium plant and can easily run over $100.
– Thrives in part shade with indirect light. The more direct the light, the more moisture will be required to keep your plant from drying out.
– Commonly grown on trees, wooden boards, wire baskets, even suspended from chains. (These ferns will quickly outgrow pots.)
– Hydrate the entire plant with warm water when substrate (e.g. sphagnum moss) dries out completely, perhaps once a week. Regular misting during hot months is also recommended.
– This handy-dandy guide from Dave’s Garden recommends using a slow-release, balanced (1:1:1) fertilizer once a month.
– The shield-shaped leaves are the basal fronds. They eventually dry up, but don’t remove them! These basal (aka sterile) fronds provide support for the plant.
– Those lovely dangling foliar fronds (aka fertile fronds) are where the spores form, and how baby ferns are made.
Here are some shots of our favorite ferns:
Toe to toe with that majestic Platycerium superbum at City Farmers Nursery in San Diego.
We gazed right in the eye of the great beast!
During our tour of Joe and Cristiana’s garden, Joe introduced us to numerous Platycerium bifurcatum specimens lining the perimeter of their garden.
For this outdoor installation, Joe mounted elkhorn ferns to a hanging board, and then centered it in a weathered wooden frame.
During our tour of North Country Farms in Kauai, we found staghorn/elkhorn ferns in their element. These ferns thrive in warm, humid climates and indirect light beneath trees.
Back in Encinitas, a cluster of elkhorn ferns occupies a tree at the Self-Realization Fellowship.
This is actually a hanging wire basket of elkhorn ferns. Elkhorns (Platycerium bifurcatum) produce numerous offsets, or pups.
Staghorn and elkhorn ferns will attach themselves naturally to boards. First, however, you will need to mount them with twine, fishing line or even nails until they attach themselves. The flat green fronds at the base are called “basal fronds,” and are sterile. The fertile fronds that look like antlers reach out and grab moisture from the air. It is important not to disturb the basal fronds at the base even when they have turned brown.
During our visit, Joe reached in and gently separated a pup from undeneath the cover of mature elkhorns.
This offset is ready for mounting. We can clearly see the short roots behind the basal frond.
After watching Joe easily separate a pup from a gang of elkhorns, Ryan got the wild idea of covering up a somewhat janky section of fencing with a single fern-tastic offset. Whether you’re covering up an ugly spot on a fence or mounting a Platycerium to a board, the procedure is pretty simple. Here’s how to do it:
Put a fern on it! We cover up a nasty spot on our fence with a lovely elkhorn fern.
How to Mount a Staghorn (or Elkhorn) Fern
– A staghorn or elkhorn fern
– A large clump of sphagnum or green moss, preferably organic.
– Galvanized nails for rust resistance
– Twine or fishing line (50lb or thicker)
– A baseboard or fence. If location is fixed, make sure the location is shady. If you are below zone 9, mount your fern on a baseboard, and move indoors during colder months to avoid frosts that will likely kill your Platycerium.
Step 1. Prepare the base. Hammer nails for attachment points.
Our base material is a pressure-treated (rot-resistant) fencepost. If mounting to DIY wood base, we recommend using cedar or redwood, which is naturally rot resistant. You can expect at least 5-10 years of loyal service before having to replace. We hammered nails around the portion of fencepost that needed to be covered up.
Do not skimp on the nails! You’ll need about 1 nail every 1-2 inches to firmly secure your staghorn fern to the base.
Step 2. Cut at least 15 feet of fishing line or twine, and tie a knot to the first nail.
Leave the line dangling after tying the knot. It’s important to get this first knot out of the way before you start positioning your fern.
Triple up on the knot so you don’t lose your fern in the wind.
Step 3. Prepare the elkhorn fern.
If transplanting from a pot, most of the dirt should be moistened and removed. Platycerium are epiphytes and have shallow roots.
Pull apart the excess dirt from the roots. Hose down the root ball to ease this process.
It’s okay to leave on some of the potting soil in fact, it can be beneficial for the plant when establishing itself.
Step 4. Orient the fern for installation.
Important: you may lose orientation of the fern during transplanting. Make sure the fertile fronds are curving upward, rather than lying flat. See below.
Left is incorrect, right is correct: fronds should point upwards, and not lie flat.
Step 5. Position the fern in a bed of green moss.
Generously place a bed of moist sphagnum moss underneath and around the basal frond while positioning on the base.
Our green moss could use a little more moisture, but we’ll water it afterwards.
Step 6. Weave fishing line over top of basal frond and moss.
We used every nail and created a criss-cross pattern. We made double turns around each nail head.
The fishing line should cross over the (surprisingly durable) shield frond on every pass to assure proper mounting. In time, a new basal frond will grow to cover up the fishing line and nails.
In addition to this patch, Ryan created a larger installation for the garden. After designing and creating custom frames out of redwood, he packed the frames with sphagnum moss, and secured the ferns using the above procedure. Those frames are now installed under our citrus trees.
Expect to see them soon on Ryan Benoit Design! In the meantime, check out the process and the final product below…
Ryan brings home a collection of staghorns from Kobey’s Swap Meet. (A good deal at $15 a piece.)
Before constructing their frames, Ryan staged the elkhorns in their eventual location.
The redwood frames in an early stage.
Our friend Rob pitches in.
Our newly framed elkhorn ferns are now installed under our tangerine and orange trees, which provide the right amount of dappled, indirect sun.
Recycled Fan "Cage" for Baby Staghorn Fern
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I had a staghorn fern when I lived in FL that was quite large and heavy, so I was trying to think of a way to mount my new "baby" fern in such a way that it would be secure, could be hung, and could grow as naturally as possible.
My new "baby" staghorn fern:
I was in my basement and spotted an old fan that didn't work when the proverbial "light bulb" went on! I took the fan, removed its motor, and opened the fan up into 2 halves.
I lined the bottom half (the front of the fan) with moist sphagnum moss and mounded a mixture of potting soil and perlite with a little Osmocote time-released fertilizer in the middle. Then I covered that with another layer of sphagnum moss and reattached the top half of the cage (the side with the hole for the motor).
I placed the fern into the potting soil through the hole in the cage, secured it firmly with heavy fishing line, and attached the plant name tag.
The cage is very sturdy and will allow the fern to grow around it as time goes on. I plan to leave it flat until enough base fronds grow to attach it onto the cage, and then I will hang it by chains, etc.
I think it turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself!! :D
Staghorn Fern Help!!
Look what someone just gave me. FREE. I've never had one of these and there's not a whole lot of info in plant files. anyone here have good luck with these and can give me some good pointers?? I've already figured out that it doesn't like frosts. even UNDER a roof. as it received some burning on its leaves.
They love shade with a bit of morning sun. They find dead trees delicious, or you can wire them to a tree trunk and watch their little pads form and stick solidly after a few years.
No special care. Just keep them moist, and give an occasional spritz of Miracle grow.
Thanks gordo! What's this I hear about feeding it bananas?? Also, I have NO trees big enough to hold this fern! Right now it is hanging under an overhang I have as part of my "nursery".
They love bananas, and I agree with above, if you cant hang it from a tree, throw some oak leaves on it so it thinks its under one. That one is going to be gorgeous once it gets fed and shaded.
Nice haul - that plant would fetch $ 150 easily.
I have mine hanging on chains in my big mango tree. It really likes being in the air more than in a pot, so if you don't have a tree trunk think of somewhere to hang it.
And yes, mine gets bananas occasionally.
wow that is fantastic, it will be beautiful :)
I just have a small one right now and have it in a orchid basket. I was wondering if it would grow attached to a pineapple palm, my only other trees to hang it from are citrus. .
I have some brophyllumms (sp) growing on another palm ( forget the name of it now)
What a surprise someone would give one that large away. I have one that has been in my family for over 30 years and it is huge. Starting in the spring i throw a handful of 6-6-6 fertilizer to it about once a month and soak it good about once a week. They like filtered light no hot sun.
That one will be beautiful in no time. I will post a picture of mine a little later.
Thanks everyone. I know I feel SO lucky. My son's girlfriend's parents owned this one and they are moving their trailer to Alabama and selling their land here. they had several of these and I thought I was getting all of them, but my son thought my "ex" would want one and promised one to him (gag. ) LOL. anyway, I don't have room for more than one. I've got it hanging underneath an overhang in my potting area now. It "may" be getting more sun than it should. I have a red maple tree, but I'm not sure if it's big enough to hold the staghorn. it's HEAVY! Anyways. all good comments and thank you so much!!
I've also gotten an orchid (I think it's an orchid) and I'm supposed to get a couple of brugs and crown of thorn plants. We'll see. :-)
Lucky you. I have a few but not as big. I've stayed away from banana peels because they attract too many ants. I just water very heavily once a week and fertilize lightly in the warmer weather once a month.
I have a large one, it outgrew its location and I persuaded my Handyman to climb up the oak tree and hang the fern from chains from a big branch. It's fine up there but I think it doesn't get enough moisture. It's a little too high to catch the regular watering of the garden below. It grows ok but I think it would be much bigger with more water..
A picture of my staghorn it has been handed down over the past 30 years i am the 3 sister who has had it.
Boy these are really big! I have a small one and an elkhorn fern too. I love them, but it will be a long time before they gat that big. lol!
It is so heavy when i water it its pulling the limb down its almost touching the ground. When I can get some help I am going to try and relocate it to a larger limb thats going to be a job. It will take 3 grown men and a boy. lol
Will they do well sitting on top of a cement column in the shade do you think?
Shella as long as they are shaded i think they are ok.
My big one was buried under an oak tree after Hurricane Charley. When I finally got it out, I had to cut it up to put it in something, to hang it. It still hasn't been hung..nobody offers to help me hang it when I mention it. So, it sits on the ground.
Lucy i will come help you hang. lol
You and I, together, would probably hang ourselves. LOL : )
oh ye of little faith. hehe
I've got to get some chain, and possibly make it a sling, first.
Also, I'm gonna get some kind of large tubing to run the chain through a few feet, so it doesn't cut and rub the oak tree limb.
Lucy that is probably what i need to do before i rehang mine.
Since they are so heavy when they get old, it probably might be a good idea. : )
My new garden came with two large staghorn ferns with frames to suspend them above the ground. Just today I got inspired to try to figure out why they have fallen from their sturdy hooks. I cannot find a reason that they can't be hoisted back up, the chains are OK. Can anyone recommend a method to levitate heavy objects? :)
I gave up trying to rehang mine and bought a large plant stand (that would normally hold a large flower pot, made out of iron) and just plopped it on top. it still sits under the oaks just about 2 feet off the ground and is very happy, just not up high anymore. too heavy to lift and chain up in the tree again. it is not in a flower pot, just set into the stand. after a while it just grew all around the stand too as it had done with the previous chains and so it is now its permanent holder.
Oh My. I got ANOTHER one from the same lady who is moving. I can't believe my luck. It's almost just as big as the other one! Wow! Now I've got to find a place to hang it!
You are just toooooo lucky! Don't know what i would do with two that size. Hope you have lots of trees.
LeePerk - LOL. I hardly have ANY trees! I have a red maple that is just about completely w/o leaves right now. It's only about 6 yrs old and although it will hold up the weight of the staghorn, I don't want to damage any of the maple limbs. My other trees are palms. I'm thinking of getting my hubby to make me a stand and I'll put shade cloth over it. I'll have to "feed" it leaves from my maple if that's what it needs.
take pictures and keep us posted on how well they do.
I will (take pics). I am still astonished that this lady gave them to me! I usually never fall into these kinds of deals. AND, another friend of my husbands has decided that he doesn't want three palm trees and is going to give them to me too. two foxys and a triangle palm. They are not full grown ones, but I don't care! I love it :-)
LAK you must be living right.
Send some of that luck over here would ya! lol!
I'm thinking is "I'm happy, I'm healthy and I have more plants than I'll ever need." has been your affirmation.
I would go with the idea of a sort of way over-sized mailbox type support -- one very tall pressure treated 4 x 4 post (maybe buy a 10 to 12 foot one and sink it in the ground about 3 ft with some concrete for firm foundation, then attach another length of pressure treated 4 x 4 post coming out at a right angle with a good heavy angle iron underneath (you can even find ornate angle irons if you want to improve the look of the stand), and/or a 2 x 4 wooden support set between the angle on a slant. Add a very large (about 2 inch) eye hook at the end of the angled 4 x 4 and you have a fairly permanent support for the staghorn ferns.
LAKelly - you could modify the design by placing the 4 x 4 support beam across the top of the 4 x 4 post so that it hung over on each side about 3 ft (you would therefore need a 4 x 4 support bar about 61/2 ft long). You could then add the angle iron braces under each side and hang each of your staghorn ferns on each of the ends.
A pulley would be the way to go in hoisting your staghorns. You will be amazed at how much weight you can lift with a pulley (in remodeling my garage, I had to take the entire rotten roof off, the facade leaned too far forward, so I did what any good redneck hillbilly would do -- put a pulley on the far side of the garage with a long tow rope attached to my truck and pulled the facade back to where it belonged! LOL)
You could even use a pulley instead of the eye hook -- that would allow you to keep the rope or chain on the staghorns and lower and raise the staghorns when you wanted to feed them a banana or otherwise tend them.
BTW - the bananas are a rich source of potassium -- one of the 3 most important elements for plant nutrition (it is the middle number in fertilizer labels such as 6-6-6). You can purchase "bloom booster" fertilizers with a middle number as high as about 54 if you want to give your staghorn an occasional heavy feeding of potassium, or just feed it the rotten bananas on a regular basis. I have blackened bananas frequently because I won't eat a banana once it gets a brown spot (too sweet for my taste!) and I toss the bananas into the top of my banana.
I started my staghorn when small on a large upside down wire hanging basket (the big ones that come with coir lining). I just stuffed the basket full of peat moss (the fiber kind) and potting soil, then wired a board to the open round end to keep the soil inside. I attached my staghorn to the outside wire with some monofilament fish line.
Juja was going to experiment with growing a staghorn on a burlap bag filled with potting soil. That would seem to be a quick, easy method, but you may want to insert some sort of pvc pole in the bag so that you have a permanent, solid object for a hook to hang the staghorn.
Gee, the whirligig on my inventor's cap is really spinning this morning! LOL