Staghorn Fern: A Growing Work of Art
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – Do you have an empty spot on your wall that is just screaming for a touch of green? "Create a unique art installment this winter in the form of a beautifully mounted Staghorn Fern," states University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Educator, Kelly Allsup.
The Staghorn Fern is aptly named because of its architecturally bold leaves resembling the antlers of a stag. Native to the tropics, and now widely available as a house plant; staghorn ferns are epiphytic, meaning they derive their water and nutrients from the air. These distinctive ferns settle in the crotch angles of trees or grow on rocks.
These ferns grow two kinds of fronds. The first frond is sterile and kidney-shaped, wrapping around the base of the plant. It is light green but begins to resemble tight layers of brown paper bags when they dry up. However, the papery layers should be allowed to remain because they help to support the plant. The second is a fertile frond that is held up to collect water and debris. The fronds produce spores and are covered with fuzzy gray hairs.
Since they are epiphytic, they are most commonly sold on wooden mounts. At the base, the grower will place a bit of growing medium under the sterile fronds and wrap with nylon wire. The stag horns that I have are in a wooden basket, acting as a frame, nestled with sphagnum moss with a wire hook to hang on the wall. It is of great benefit because, as a horticulturist, I do not have space for more plants on my tables or floors, and going up on the wall allows me to add more variety and number.
When I need to water the ferns, I take them down and place them in the sink. I then use the sprayer to wash their leaves and soak the basal leaves before leaving them to dry. Lastly, I place the ferns back on their wall displays. I usually limit my fertilizer applications to two to three times during the growing season with a ratio of 10-10-10. They always recover nicely with a good soak from the sink sprayer and sunlight from a north window. Sometimes, I forget that they are plants, and not works of art displaying on the dining room wall.
The only issue that I have had is mealy bugs. They are cottony, white insects that form colonies at the undersides of the leaves or the base of the ferns. You will want to avoid most insecticides because they may burn the leaves, so I wash the bugs off in the sink, and use half-strength alcohol, dabbing them with a Q-tip. I rinse and repeat every three or four days.
This fern has been around longer than dinosaurs and can grow to 300 pounds in the perfect conditions. Create just one or a grouping, and you could construct an interior resembling an Old World forest.
First Photo by Horticult
Second Photo taken from Biltmore Gardens McLean Master Gardner Trip