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Plant of the week: Staghorn fern, a plant featuring antler-like foliage

Some plants just won’t be ignored! The staghorn fern is a unique and showstopping plant that would make an excellent addition to any plant collection. However, these plants are not cared for in the traditional way you might be used to. To ensure your new plant friend is happy and healthy, you’ll want to read on to learn how to provide it with what it needs to thrive.

staghorn fern on board
Image used with permission by copyright holder

What is a staghorn fern?

The staghorn fern, Platycerium bifurcatum, are native to tropical areas in Asia and Australia and can even be found in the U.S. in states such as Florida. The staghorn fern is a type of plant called epiphytes, which simply means it lives by growing on another plant. In this case, the staghorn fern grows on large trees. These ferns can grow up to two or three feet wide and two to three feet tall, but they are slow-growing plants, so don’t expect to see too much progress quickly.

How to care for a staghorn fern

Staghorn ferns are not beginner-friendly plants and can be picky when it comes to care. Unfortunately, they’ll quickly die on you if you’re not careful. So let’s go over their specific care needs to ensure you can keep your staghorn fern alive.

Water

You can’t water these plants like you would your other houseplants. For staghorn ferns, watering is a two-step process. First, you need to mist the plant while focusing on the underside of the fronds. Second, you’ll need to soak the fern. Soak it in a sink or bathtub for 10 to 20 minutes, then allow it to drip dry before rehanging it.

We suggest watering your staghorn every week during the hotter months, then going to every other week during the cooler months. However, this schedule should be adjusted depending on the conditions of your home. If you have a warmer home, you’ll need to water more often; alternatively, if you keep your home on the cooler side, you’ll likely be able to go more extended periods without needing to water the plant.

Light

They want bright but filtered light and need to be protected from direct sunlight. Direct sun will burn the plant and make it dry out faster, which will kill the plant quickly.

staghorn fern leaves
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Food

Feeding this plant requires nothing special. A water-soluble balanced fertilizer will work perfectly. Apply this once a month during the growing seasons, and then not at all during the winter months.

Temperature

Surprisingly, staghorn ferns are relatively cold-hardy plants, but we still suggest keeping the temperature in your home above 50 degrees. You’ll also want to make sure the temperatures don’t get too hot.

Humidity

The staghorn fern loves humidity and will thrive in a home with 60 percent humidity. Most homes sit around 40 to 50 percent. You can use a humidifier to increase the moisture in your home or spray the plant with mist in the morning and evening to make up for the lack of it in the air.

Toxicity

These plants are non-toxic to both cats and dogs, so you don’t have to worry or rush to the vet if one of your furry friends decides to take a bite. This probably won’t be an issue, though, since these are typically mounted on a board and hung on the wall.

Additional care

The leaves of this plant are actually called fronds, and this plant has two types of fronds. First are the larger, more prominent “leaves” that gave the plant its common name since they look like the antlers of an elk or deer. The other type of fronds are called shield fronds, which are the flat, round, and hard “leaves” that surround the base of the plant, protect the roots, and aid in the absorption of water and nutrients. While these fronds start green, they’ll eventually brown and crisp up. It’s essential not to remove them; this is the natural lifecycle of the plant and doesn’t mean it’s dying.

Don’t feel intimidated by this unique and picky plant. You now have the tools and information you need to care for it.

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Rebecca Wolken
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Rebecca's has written for Bob Villa and a Cincinnati based remodeling company. When she's not writing about home remodeling…
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