The Large, Elegant Staghorn Fern

The staghorn fern does not look like the standard fern: instead of many thin, leaflet-covered ribs, the staghorn fern has thick blades that split at their edges and resemble the horns of an elk. This deep green fern can grow to be quite large, a few feet in diameter, and its base eventually becomes covered in brown leaves, which turn woody. It is a striking plant, and adds a lot to any room it is kept in.

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 A dramatic example of the staghorn fern’s woody base. The brown leaves should not be removed—it is also unusual for such a small plant to have such large woody base.

Staghorn ferns sometimes appear in garden centers of stores like Wal-Mart and Lowes, as well as nurseries. They do best in bright rooms, but with indirect light, and, while they prefer warm temperatures, they can survive a few cold nights, too.

The only thing that staghorn ferns are finicky about is moisture, as they like to be in a humid environment. They can be kept happy by regular sprayings from a spray bottle, as well as regular waterings, just before the soil becomes bone dry. Like all plants, the healthiest staghorn ferns will be watered with filtered water, or at least water that’s been set out for a day, to let the chlorine evaporate out.

Staghorn ferns are epiphytes, like orchids. This means that in their natural habitat, staghorn ferns live on other trees, or places where their roots are not in a lot of soil.

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Staghorn growing in nature

This means that the best place for a staghorn would be on a pretty, large piece of bark packed with peat moss and a tiny bit of fast-draining garden soil. To let the staghorn fern adjust to its new perch (stores always sell mature specimens as potted plants), set the fern in its new bark perch, or put it on a mount, and wrap the base and roots in pantyhose (or non-copper wire) to let everything grow together. The mount can be hung up on a wall or kept someplace where the staghorn fern will be noticeable—this is a plant that always looks good as decoration.

The staghorn fern will be happy to live outside during summer, although if it is very dry be sure to water and mist your plant, and do keep it out of direct sun. Like many plants, the staghorn fern will grow very quickly in summer. When cold weather hits, your staghorn fern will be even more regal than it was when you first set it out.

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