Staghorn Ferns: Care and Styling

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Staghorn Ferns

Plants with personality! Whether nestled between artwork on a gallery wall, or the star feature in your home, Mounted Staghorn Ferns breath life into spaces in an unexpected way.

 
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Epiphytes, Living Art, Fascinating Ferns

Our love for stellar staghorn ferns is endless. We’ve experimented with mounting a variety of species to countless mediums. Whether mounted on a ‘modern’ application or a rustic board found from the banks of the Mississippi, one thing always rings true: Each and every staghorn has it’s own distinct personality and expression. These structural stunners have become plant cult-favorite over the last few years, with good reason. Easy to care for and beautiful to grow, staghorn ferns can thrive indoors, adding organic dimension to any space.

Staghorn ferns are epiphytes, meaning they are air plants. Often the term 'air plants' is used when referring to tillandsias, but in fact, all epiphytes are air plants, including staghorn ferns. Epiphytic plants do not absorb nutrients through their roots, rather, they use their root systems to attach to a medium for structure while nutrients are processed through the leaves or fronds. Mounted staghorn ferns are truly structural works of living art that can be enjoyed indoors or outdoors. 

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Origin

Staghorn ferns are called Platyceriums, and come in a variety of species. Native to Africa, northern Australia and Southeast Asia, staghorn ferns are Old World tropics. In their native tropical regions, and even warmer parts of the US, like New Orleans and Florida, these beauties can grow to epic proportions. Hanging Staghorn Ferns line this walkway, making for a dramatic biophilic stroll at the Botanical Gardens in New Orleans City Park, as pictured above.

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Anatomy

The anatomy of a staghorn fern is amazing, and quite different from your typical plant (if there ever was such a thing)! Staghorns are comprised of three parts: 

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Antler fronds - Arguably the most distinct part of the staghorn fern, these bifurcated leaves grow outwardly from the center of the rootball and at points of new shield frond growth.  Their shape resembles the antlers of a deer or moose, giving the staghorn fern it’s name.

Shield fronds - These are the female fronds of the fern, they take in water and nutrients, and grow around the root ball of the fern, protecting it. They initially start out the most beautiful pale green, resembling a snowy green felt. As they grow larger, they eventually brown and harden. This is a natural part of the staghorn fern grown cycle, no need to trim the brown leaves, they will further protect the root ball and empower the plant to grow even larger.

Root ball - This is where the root system of the staghorn lives. Because these roots are epiphytic and only designed to latch onto surfaces, rather than take in nutrients, they are very minimal and are susceptible to root rot, making proper water drainage vital.

 
 
 

Reproduction

Staghorn ferns do not have seeds, rather, they have spores that appear as brownish masses on the tips of the antler-like fertile fronds. These spores will produce new plants when sown on moist, sterile peat moss. However, this is a slow method of reproduction, and most new plants are obtained from pups, which develop from the mother plants.

Propogating staghorns from pups from the mother plant is easy and usually has a high success rate. Wait until the pups are at least 4 inches wide, and simply cut the pup with some roots attached. You can mount the pup onto a board as you would a full grown staghorn fern.

 
 
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Staghorn Fern Care

Often people are intimidated when approaching care for mounted plants. However, once you know why these plants thrive from recieving nutrition this way, it’s easier to understand how to encourage growth. As we’ve discussed, staghorn ferns are considered epiphytes, meaning in nature, they grow on trees and receive their nutrients from above. Light comes through a filtered tree canopy and water spills through that canopy, draining off the minimal root system and onto the forest floor. Mimicking the natural environmental patterns of a plant is a great starting point in effective care.

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Light

Many common house ferns thrive in dark light, and are the type of beautiful and moody ferns that thrive in the dark forest of the Pacific Northwest. However, these stately staghorns are from the Tropics, requiring brighter light and warmer temperatures. Think of the warm filtered light bursting through a lush forest canopy. Hang your staghorn in the brightest space in your house that isn’t direct sunlight. Across from a window is an ideal spot for your plant to get optimal sunlight.

Ideal window lighting: Southern and Eastern exposures and bright Northern windows. Western light can work well, but be weary of harsh afternoon rays causing burn (this rule applies to most plants).

Temperature

The ideal temperature for staghorns to grow is between 60 degrees and 80 degrees. Staghorns can thrive outside when temperatures stay within 50 degrees and 100 degrees, but should be taken in otherwise as they are susceptible to burn and freeze.

Airflow & Rotations

Staghorn ferns love humid environments. If you have a strong AC vent or fireplace, make sure your fern doesn’t get dried out. It’s best to rotate your indoor staghorn ferns outdoors once per month for 3-4 days in the appropriate filtered light.

Watering

Watering is often the most intimidating and challenging part of caring for staghorn ferns, but with a common sense approach to mimicking their natural watering cycle, we can achieve stunning growth. Keep in mind that these plants are naturally watered from under a forest canopy, and then the water is able to drain from the roots onto the ground below.

Method

Soaking is our preferred method of watering.  We’ve found this allows our plants to soak up a sufficient amount of water. If you have a an available hose, don’t be afraid to spray the plant for even more water absorption. 

  • Fill up a sink, tub or bowl with water

  • Remove your staghorns from display space

  • Place staghorns in water (face down is best, for larger staghorns, the root ball being soaked may be the best option) 

  • Let soak / water with hose until completely saturated 

  • Let plant dry & rehang

Frequency 

  • The temperature, airflow and humidity all affect how often your staghorn should be watered. The more humid your environment, the less watering is required; this is because staghorns absorb water through their fronds and rootball, so more moisture means less manual watering. The more light / heat, the more watering is required. Adjust your watering to the conditions of the environment.

  • We often tell people to water 2 times per week during hot, dry times and once per week to every other week in colder times.

  • When your staghorn feels significantly lighter, that means the root ball / moss isn’t holding much moisture. It’s time to water!

  • Black fronds at the base of the plant indicate overwatering (water isn’t draining from the roots sufficiently, i.e. root rot). Immediately reduce watering to once per month until the plant recovers. 

  • Brown or black tips on the antler fronds indicate under watering (the water isn’t reaching the tips of the leaves).

 
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Mounted Staghorn Fern Construction

We offer private & community Mounted Staghorn Fern workshops & planting parties to share the joy of this botanical craft with fellow garden enthusiasts. Meet us, our team and learn how to make these works of hard in a hands-on, meditative and inspiring environment. 

Join us for one of our community events in New Orleans, or book us for a private event. We'll teach you the proper methods of construction, care and styling to create the vertical garden of your dreams. 

 
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Mounted Staghorn Fern Styling

 

We can’t get enough of these structural stunners. Whether displayed minimally on a wall as a statement piece, or grouped together as a living art installation, these plants make a statement. We utilize everything from minimal wood to reclaimed pieces found on the banks of the Mississippi river and Louisiana bayous.  

The Luna Designs below are in homes and commercial spaces all around New Orleans and beyond.