Staghorn Ferns

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Basic Info about Staghorn Ferns

Once uncommon, staghorn ferns are now popular and widely available. They are ideally
suited to south Florida's growing conditions and will grow well in central and north 
Florida provided care is given to protect them from freezing temperatures.

Staghorn ferns are members of the Polypodiaceae plant family, and belong to the genus 
Platycerium. Eighteen species are presently recognized along with many varieties and
hybrids. Staghorns are tropical plants native to the Philippines, Southeast Asia, Indonesia, 
Australia, Madagascar, Africa and America. In their native habitat they thrive as epiphytes, 
generally found growing on tree trunks, branches, or rocks. Tropical rains provide moisture
and wash nutrients into the root area.

Staghorn ferns are valued for their highly variable and unusual growth habits. The plant 
produces two distinctly different fronds (i.e., leaves), (a) basal and (b) foliar. Basal fronds,
often called “sterile fronds,'' are rounded thickened fronds which grow in overlapping 
layers and clasp onto a growing surface. (Figure 1- below.) The upper parts of basal fronds 
may be lobed or divided and stand erect. This upright form efficiently collects water, fallen 
leaves, and plant debris. These products eventually break down, releasing nutrients necessary 
for growth. Foliar fronds, also called “fertile fronds,'' are either erect or pendant and may be 
divided into lobed or strap-shaped divisions. Foliar fronds produce brownish reproductive 
structures (called sporangia) on the underside of their fronds. (Figure 2 - below.) These 
sporangia hold spores which, when germinated, form new plants. Both basal and foliar
fronds are covered to varying degrees, with small stellate (star-shaped) hairs giving them 
a silvery cast. These hairs provide some protection from insect pests and conserve moisture.

Figure 1 -Sterile Fronds 
or Base Fronds

Figure 2 - Underside showing sporangia