What’s Growing On? Staghorn Ferns

The Staghorn Fern is a member of the “Polypodiaceae” plant family, found throughout Florida primarily Central and South Florida. This particular plant can be startling due to how it grows in uncommon areas such as tree trunks, branches, and rocks. The staghorn fern is a coveted plant for its distinctive growing behavior and massive size. Staghorn ferns consist of basal fronds that attach to surfaces in an overlapping pattern and are thicker in size compared to the foliar fronds. Basal fronds are sterile plant parts, suited for collecting water based on the growth pattern of the leaves going upwards instead of down. Basal fronds serve as a “catch all net” by collecting plant debris, that later decomposes and is utilized by the plant as organic matter.

The foliar fronds known as the fertile fronds produce “sporangia”, the brownish reproductive material found under the leaf. Often times, homeowners mistake the “sporangia” for a disease but this is a vital part of the plants reproduction process. While this particular plant does not grow well in pots, it is often mounted to other types of growing media to produce “pups” (not actual puppies) rather smaller plants that will grow and develop into the massive ferns we see around various parts of Florida.

Another distinctive feature of Staghorn ferns is that they are “epiphytes”. “Epiphytes” are plants that require a host to survive however, they do not rob the host plant of any nutrients. “Epiphytes” receive their growing needs just the same as other plants. Some types of “epiphytes” are Spanish Moss, Resurrection Fern, many Bromeliads, and of course the Staghorn Fern.

For more information on Staghorn Ferns, check out the following links below:





A mature Platycerium bifurcatum via Wisconsin Horticulture




Posted: October 6, 2021

Category: Agriculture, HOME LANDSCAPES, Horticulture, UF/IFAS Extension
Tags: Epiphytes, Ferns, Staghorn

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