The spectacular staghorn fern is an epiphyte or ‘air plant’, which grows without soil. Native to Australian rainforests, the staghorn Platycerium superbum and closely related elkhorn Platycerium bifurcatum will grow just about anywhere in filtered light with protection from winds.
Which is which?
Staghorns are larger and have a large, shield-like frond at the front which curves outward to collect water and organic matter as it falls from above. The smaller elkhorn has multiple rosettes or ‘eyes’ of foliage which can be easily separated to start new plants. Both plants have similar growing requirements.
Installing a new plant
Staghorns and elkhorns sold in garden centres are commonly attached to a backing board which can then be fixed to a wall or tree-trunk.
Propagation of Elkhorns in three (3) easy steps
Elkhorns are easily propagated from the rosettes that form on the front of the plant.
Step 1. With a sharp kitchen knife or similar implement, carefully remove one of the rosettes.
Step 2. Attach the rosette to a hardwood backing board. The plant can be nailed directly onto the board with flat-headed galvanised nails through 30mm washers. Alternatively, drill holes through the board and fix the plant, antlers upward, with plastic-coated wire, heavy fishing-line, or panty-hose. Bind the plant so it is securely fastened at the back of the board.
Step 3. The mounted elkhorn can now be hung in place on a wall.
Rosettes can be easily attached directly to the side of a tree in a similar fashion. The plant will eventually attach itself to the tree or board, after which time the binding can be removed. Staghorns are more difficult to propagate and quality specimens are best purchased from garden centres.
Staghorns need very little maintenance. In fact, those grown onto the trunk of a tree can usually fend for themselves and care should be taken not to over feed or overwater them. In conditions with full overhead shelter, such as under the eves of a house, supplementary feeding and watering is advisable. They can be fed by placing organic matter such as leaf litter, banana skins or compost at the back of the plant (near where it meets the backing board) or watered with a very diluted dose of SeaMax Fish & Kelp. Elkhorns and staghorns may also benefit from watering during very hot, dry periods.How to Grow Bromeliads Gardening on the Southside