Platycerium staghorn fern
The popularity of this exotic plant is not without good reason as its unique shape draws attention and large specimens can prove an eye-catching feature. The undemanding character of these plants, which do not mind if you occasionally forget to water them, and their imperviousness to warm, dry, centrally heated air are additional welcome characteristics.
Platycerium is well adapted to its life as an epiphyte in trees. First of all, it produces sterile, often smooth-edged leaves that curl backwards to lie close to the trunk or branch. These are barren leaves. The oldest of these leaves gradually dry up and then remain for a long time as brown, paperlike layers underneath newly forming leaves. This creates a kind of funnel in which humus and water are caught.
The fertile leaves grow upright or droop from this rosette. They are strong, green or greyish-green and, depending on the species, more or less deeply lobed. A whitish-grey film protects them from losing too much water through evaporation. Theare unusual in that, depending on the species, they form as large, dark brown to black patches either on the tips of the leaves (Platycerium bifurcatum) or on the surface of the leaf just below a fork (Platycerium grande).
The genus comprises seventeen species of which, as a rule, Platycerium bifurcatum, with some varieties, is the one most often offered for sale in the gardening trade.
• Platycerium bifurcatum merits the name staghorn fern because of its multiple-lobed fertile leaves. This is a very variable species which forms huge colonies in its natural habitat.
Of all the other species, a few can sometimes be viewed in botanical collections. They appear in an interesting range of shapes, especially in the design of their leaves.
• Platycerium grande is sometimes offered in the trade. It has very large, upright leaves with lobes around the edges.
• Platycerium superbum resembles Platycerium grande and also forms large individual specimens.
• Platycerium angolense has undivided fertile leaves and barren leaves with wavy edges.
• Platycerium coronarium has deeply indented, 3 m (120 in) long fertile leaves that hang down like straps.
• Platycerium madagascariense forms an interesting net-like pattern on its barren leaves which have protruding leaf veins. This species requires cooler temperatures.
Origin: Most species originate from the tropical regions of southern China to upper India, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, New Zealand and Australia. Individual species are also to be found in tropical Africa, on Madagascar, the Mascarene Islands, the Comoros Islands and the Seychelles as well as in Peru and Bolivia. They usually grow in moist, warm rainforests as epiphytes on tree trunks and in the forks of branches or among rocks.
Position: Bright to semi-shady. Even temperatures all year round; during the daytime 18-25° C (6477° F). Temperatures may sink as low as 15° C (59° F) during the night. These plants prefer medium humidity but will also cope with drier air.
Care: Water only sparingly, particularly in slightly cooler positions and in winter, but never let them dry out completely. It is a good idea to immerse them in water every one to two weeks. water-logging is lethal! Add low doses of fertilizer to the water used for watering or immersing every two weeks from the first month of spring to the first month of autumn.
Do not spray. On no account remove any dead barren leaves. The wax layer on the surface of the leaves should never be damaged as it protects the fern from excessive evaporation. These plants feel most comfortable growing on pieces of bark or on epiphyte trunks but one can also plant them in little wooden baskets. If Platycerium are grown in pots, they should only be repotted when absolutely necessary. Choose a loose compost (for example, orchid compost) and containers that are not too large.
Propagation: Fromor by division. Platycerium bifurcatum is often propagated through in specialist nurseries.
Pests, diseases: Scale insects. Note that Platycerium ferns do not react well to most plant protection agents.
My tip: If you decide to fertilize your Platycerium while immersing it in water, you can use the excess fertilizer solution for watering other ferns or indoor plants afterwards. This saves on fertilizer and is better for the environment.