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December 9th, 2020

Staghorn Fern – Vegetated Art

by R.S. Walsh

The Staghorn Fern is a tropical plant native to the Philippines, Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Australia, Madagascar, Africa, and America.   Mainly known for their growth in northern Florida they can also thrive in Southwest Florida, with the most common type for our area being the (Platycerium superbum).   Known for their artistic look with their two distinctive fronds – the Foliar fronds (Fertile Fronds) and the Basil Fronds (Sterile Fronds). The Foliar fronds are the brownish fronds that are erect or pendant shapes and have spores on the underside called Sporangia that when germinated, form new plants.  The Basil Fronds are the most apparent fronds that have rounded thick overlapping layers with an upper portion that resembles the horns on male deer.  This is where it gets its Staghorn name.

It thrives in tropical environment with filtered light where it’s off the ground and can naturally gather rain water.  It gathers its nutrients by trapping debris within its rounded fronds and from the fronds that slowly decay in the inner core or ‘nest’ of the plants. The ferns like a slightly acidic environment and so to encourage growth in propagated plants, some growers recommend adding used tea leaves or banana peels directly to the plant’s nest.  This slow growing plant can live for decades in the ideal environment and can eventually grow to as much as a meter in width and height, and weigh more than 100 pounds.

Staghorn Ferns can be artistically grown on a small piece of driftwood when it’s small to serve as a piece of art on an accent wall, tree or column.  But keep in mind that it will continue to grow around the driftwood and eventually need to be moved into a more supportive wooden or wire structure to allow it to have something to grow around and ideally it will need to be hung up in a large tree or from a very sturdy frame structure.

If you are looking for a unique focal point in your landscape that needs very little care, a couple of properly placed Staghorn Ferns might be just what you are looking for.

This column is a joint effort by all at In The Garden, Sanibel’s local garden center located at 3889 Sanibel Captiva Rd, Sanibel Island, Florida.

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