Ultimate Staghorn Fern Guide

4 Dec 2021

The staghorn fern is a unique houseplant that makes for the perfect decoration. You can hang the plant on a variety of surfaces or even in a basket. To grow a prosperous staghorn fern you’ll need to know how to create the optimal environment and develop a care routine.

Throughout this article, we will cover the key characteristics, care requirements, and ways to revive this houseplant.

Main Features

The staghorn fern goes by many common names depending on its variety, however, the most commonly used ones are the elkhorn fern, antelope ears, and the rainforest fern. This species’ botanical name is Platycerium, and it belongs to the Polypodiaceae family.

It is native to tropical rainforests in Asia and Australia. Much like the Bromeliad, it is an epiphytic houseplant. This means that the plant naturally grows on trees and rocks while collecting nutrients from water and sunshine.

Platycerium has two distinct types of leaves; shield fronds and bifurcated fronds. The shield fronds are small, flat leaves that cover the rootball, and the bifurcated fronds have a fork-like shape.

Fun Fact: The shape of the bifurcated fronds almost looks like antlers which is why it is called the staghorn fern.


There are 17 different species of the Platycerium, and we’ll briefly describe 10 of the most common types.

  • Platycerium bifurcatum: This is by far the most popular variation and it is also referred to as the ‘wavy’ staghorn fern or ‘chocolate’ staghorn fern. Its leaves can grow up to 10 feet (3m) in length.
  • Platycerium superbum: It is known as the ‘great’ staghorn fern and is native to New Zealand. It has a thick stem with leaves that grow up to 6 feet (1.8m) long.
  • Platycerium hillii: It has dark green foliage and is known for its long, lush leaves that grow from a brown stem.
  • Platycerium holttumianum: This type is grown in tropical rainforests and its bottom set of leaves can grow up to 16 feet (4.8m) in length.
  • Platycerium elephantotis: The ‘elephant ear’ staghorn fern gets its name from the large rounded foliage. Its leaves are an emerald-green color and this plant is commonly found in Indonesia.
  • Platycerium coronarium: Its leaves range from a green to golden color and can reach up to 7 feet (2.1m) long.
  • Platycerium veitchii: This easy-to-grow houseplant has stunning silver-green leaves.
  • Platycerium alcicorne: Also referred to as the ‘sword’ fern and ‘fishbone’ fern, this plant is a climber and popular decorative piece.
  • Platycerium insulare: These houseplants are perfect for hanging baskets as their long, green leaves droop over the edge.
  • Platycerium grande: This variation is unique as its leaves are fan-shaped and droopy.

How Big Does It Get?

The average staghorn fern grows up to 2 to 3 feet (61 – 91cm) tall and 2 to 3 feet (61 – 91cm) wide.

How Fast Does It Grow?

Typically, Platycerium is a slow grower. It only grows an extra 1 to 2 inches (2.5 – 5cm) a year.

How Long Does It Live?

This houseplant can live for many decades. The average staghorn fern can live for up to 30 years.

Fun Fact: Ferns have an extremely long lifespan and can survive for incredible 100 years.

Is It Toxic to Cats, Dogs, and Humans?

The staghorn fern is not toxic to pets, or people. Even though it is pet-friendly, you may want to hang it up or grow it in a place where your pets cannot reach it in order to protect its fronds from those curious cats.

Staghorn fern - size, lifespan, toxicity, growth speed (infographics)

Staghorn Fern Care

Now that we’ve discussed the main features of this plant, we can move on to actually caring for it. Below, we’ll set out the care requirements to grow a prosperous staghorn fern.

How to Water It

The Platycerium prefers to be watered about once a week during the spring and summertime. You can water it less frequently during the winter months as it only requires to be watered once every 2 – 3 weeks.

In between watering make sure that the soil is dry, this way you won’t end up with a waterlogged plant. The best way to water it is by submerging the plant or its pot in cool water for 5 to 10 minutes.


As the plant is often mounted on a surface, drainage isn’t important. In the case that you decide to plant it in a container then use lightweight, loose and well-draining soil.


Pruning this houseplant is not necessary. It only requires light trimming to improve its appearance. The most important thing to keep in mind is that the shield fronds shouldn’t be removed. Once these leaves die they decompose and provide the plant with food.

You can prune the houseplant any time of the year. All you have to do is follow the quick steps below.

  1. Use a sterilized pair of scissors to cut the leaves close to the base of the stem.
  2. Place the plant back in its mounted position or pot.


Every three years you can repot the houseplant during the springtime. Additionally, you will need to water it well a day before you plan on repotting it.

Here’s a straightforward guide to repotting your fern:

  1. Gently slide your plant out of its container.
  2. Prepare a new pot with moist potting soil, and plant it.
  3. Mist the houseplant and place it back in a sunny area.


Light Requirements

The staghorn fern does best in filtered sunshine. The more humid an environment is or the cooler it is then the more sunshine it can receive.

If the plant is placed in direct sunshine then its poor fronds may become sunburnt. When the leaves are scorched, their color begins to fade and turn into a lighter green color.

Best Soil

If you grow the plant in a pot and soil then it needs to be loose, well-draining, and fluffy. Typically, you grow this houseplant in potting soil before it has matured.

Try out one of these combinations for the best potting mix:

  • 1 part orchid bark + 1 part cactus potting mix
  • 1 part peat moss + 1 part sphagnum moss + 1 part bark


You can fertilize the Platycerium once a month during the active growing seasons, just like the pothos. During the spring and summertime, you can use a water-soluble balanced fertilizer with a ratio of 1-1-1 or 10-10-10.

Once the cooler winter chill sets in you can reduce the number of times that you feed your plant to once every 2 months.

Pot Size and Type

Typically, you would grow this epiphyte on a hanging basket, wire, or wooden surface. If you decide to grow it in a container then make sure that it’s 1 inch (2.5cm) larger in diameter than the rootball.

It can be grown in any type of container such as a plastic one, as long as it allows for excess water to drain out.

Temperature Range

A healthy Platycerium prefers temperatures between 60 and 80°F (15.5 – 26.7°C). It cannot tolerate temperatures below 53.6°F (12°C), and it cannot cope in an environment above 100°F (37.8°C).

To maintain a consistent temperature, make sure that there are no air vents or cool drafts near the plant.

Humidity Level

As the fern’s native environment is the rainforest, it thrives in a humid home. Much like the air plant, it loves a moderate to a high level of humidity. A Platycerium prefers humidity levels ranging between 70 and 80%.

You can increase your household humidity levels by grouping plants or placing a humidifier in the same room. A great way to increase humidity levels is by misting the plants 3 to 5 times a week.

Outdoors vs. Indoors

The staghorn fern can grow outdoors year-round in USDA hardiness zones of 9 through 12. This plant looks stunning when mounted outdoors on a rock or tree.

There are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to growing this houseplant outdoors. The warmer the environment the more water it requires, and the more humid a region the less water is needed. The plant needs to be moved indoors once the temperature drops significantly.

Staghorn fern - care, water, light, soil, pot, temperature, fertilizer (infographics)

How to Mount and Hang It

The staghorn fern is a brilliant houseplant that can be hung up or mounted on a variety of surfaces such as wire, wood, or even walls. You can also grow it in a hanging basket, and all you’ll need is the desired surface, sphagnum moss, and plastic ties.

Follow the simple steps below:

  1. Gather the necessary tools such as the surface (wire, wood, or mesh), plastic ties, and sphagnum moss.
  2. Place the moss on the surface and then position the plant on top of it. Take out those plastic ties and secure the plant on the surface.
  3. If you wish to nail it to the wall or a tree then simply nail a wooden board or wire basket, but make sure that you don’t damage its roots.


Platycerium does not bloom any flowers, however, it produces spores just like the Boston fern. These spores can be planted to grow even more ferns. We’ll discuss this method of propagation later on in the article.

How to Grow and Propagate It

You can propagate this houseplant during the spring or summertime. The most successful methods of propagation are by planting its pups and spores.

Planting the Pups

This houseplant produces miniature plants called offsets or pups. These are easily propagated and grown during the springtime. Follow the easy steps below.

  1. Gently remove the plant from its current position and look for the pups.
  2. Use a sharp blade to slice the pups away from the mother plant. Be careful to gently untangle the roots.
  3. Find a new piece of wood or wire and place some moist sphagnum moss on it. Then set the plant on the moss and nail it down or attach it with a plastic tie.
  4. Place it under some filtered sunshine and mist it frequently.

How to Plant Spores

Unlike most houseplants, this plant produces spores instead of seeds. Planting these can be a time-consuming and slow process, however, it is a great challenge for the experienced gardener.

Ideally, you should scrape the spores from the back of the leaf during the summer. Next, you can follow the step-by-step guide.

  1. Fill a tray with moist peat moss and sprinkle the spores across it.
  2. Water it well with distilled water and place it in a sunny location.
  3. After about 3 to 6 months the spores will germinate.
  4. Once 3 leaves have sprouted, you can transplant each plant in its own pot.

How to Save a Dying Plant

The fern can often run into some trouble along the way, but all of these issues are easy to fix. Just by making a few simple adjustments, you can revive your houseplant.

Shield Fronds Turning Brown

If the antler fronds are turning completely brown then this is totally normal. As the plant ages, its leaves begin to brown. It is only concerning when the tips or edges start to brown.

Brown edges may be due to a lack of humidity or a lack of water. All you have to do is mist the plant with lukewarm water and adjust your watering schedule.

Yellow Fronds

When the fronds turn into a yellow color, it may be caused by a lack of moisture in the air or improper watering.

You can place a mini humidifier near the plant to increase humidity levels. If watering is the issue then either water it more frequently or allow the plant some time to dry out before watering it again.

Root Rot

Root rot occurs when the plant is being soaked in water for far too long or is watered too often. You will need to cut back any blackened or brown roots and cease watering them immediately.

You can begin watering the plant once it slowly recovers and the roots are looking healthy.

Brown Spots

Brown spots ruin your pristine plant and you’ll want to get rid of them as soon as possible. Typically, it is caused by overwatering or using cold water.

Overwatering causes the roots and leaves to become brown and soft. You must allow the plant some time to recover before watering it again.

If you use water that is too cold then it will shock its roots. It is best to use room temperature water in the future.

Concluding Comment

The staghorn fern is a fairly easy houseplant to care for and is a great starting point for any beginner. If you keep in mind the few environmental requirements then you will grow a healthy, lush fern.

Always remember to place it in filtered sunlight and develop a consistent care routine to grow a prosperous fern.

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