Houseplant of the Week: Staghorn Ferns

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Staghorn ferns are different from most other common houseplants – even other ferns.

The plants have not just one, but two types of leaves, one of which resembles antlers when it matures (in fact, other common names for this plant are elk horn or antelope ear ferns). These are the fertile leaves that produce the spores that allow the plant to reproduce.

The other leaves, which are flat and broad, are sterile. Sometimes they will look brown, but don’t remove them thinking they are dead leaves; they are essential for getting the plant nutrients and making it stable. 

Although you might buy your young staghorn fern in a pot, they are epiphytes, meaning that they do not grow in soil but instead use their roots to anchor themselves to host trees. Most staghorn ferns are grown on a plank of wood (and even hung from walls as a bit of plant art), or you can grow them in a basket with moss, peat or other organic material as the growing medium.

They enjoy bright, indirect light and absorb water through their fronds as well as their roots, so they love humid places or a good misting. A good rule of thumb is to water your plant once a week in dry and hot weather and then reduce to every two or three weeks as temperatures cool.