Staghorn ferns (Platycerium spp) are so-called because their leaves resemble the horns of that large herbivore. (If that animal had floppy horns, of course. Ja nee. And so why are they pups and not fawns? Hey, we’re just gardeners).
Staghorns are epiphytic, meaning that they are air plants, deriving moisture and nutrients from the air, while relying for physical support from another plant, generally a tree. They are not parasitic.
In our homes they can be grown on a piece of wood or in a basket, and make wonderful green accents for tree trunks, walls and patios.
To attach a pad to a tree in your garden, pack compost or spaghnum moss between the fern and the trunk of the tree with pantyhose, fishing line or wire (pantyhose can easily be cut away once the plant has adhered, or they will disintegrate in time).
For a wall, use a board as backing (with a hook to hang, like a picture frame), or buy a special slatted wooden mount from a nursery. Bury the staghorn roots in a ball of moistened spaghnum moss and press to the mount. With thin fishing line, tie the wad of spaghnum moss with the embedded fern to the board and staple the fishing line to the board. Fluff out the moss to hide the wire, and later the developing fern fronds will do that for you.
For best growth, partial shade and light watering or spraying is all that is required. A special tip from Suzanne Kilpin (Constantiaberg Garden Club): “From time to time feed with a ‘vrot’ banana. Pack skin and fruit at the back. This supplies the plant with the potassium that it requires.”
Over time the fern will produce pups from the spores under the leaves and will fill up around the trunk of the tree and become quite spectacular. And then you can sell them. Like we plan to!
Come and get your pups at our Open Gardens Constantia plant sale on November 14th and 15th!
Photo: Lyn McCallum. Text: Suzanne Kilpin, Marie Viljoen