Staghorn fern advice

rite2uOctober 16, 2006

Anyone have staghorn ferns?

I want to find out about transferring them. My parents have a huge staghorn (it completely wraps around the trunk of a mango tree that is 30-40 inches in diameter and extends more than 3 feet down about 6 feet off the ground). Yes, I will take a photo and post.

The staghorn has to be at least 20 years old. This is zone 10b. My parents have never done anything to care for the thing. It obviously found a perfect niche in the shade of that mango tree.

My parents are about to sell their home and move to Georgia.

My question is how do we take a cutting without damaging the fern? The mango tree is old and hasn't fruited in years and they don't really care about it, but the fern is huge. How do you separate the staghorn from the host and how do you then introduce it to a new host?

Any advice would be appreciated.


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Here are some photos of this huge staghorn:

    Bookmark   October 16, 2006 at 7:53PM
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I would be afraid to walk near that thing! What does it eat?

    Bookmark   October 19, 2006 at 1:24PM
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Smile...they feed it small children! HA! HA! must eat the decomposing mango tree leaves and whatever insects fly up in there. Rainwater is the only water it gets. They do nothing to it. The sprinklers might hit it, but I doubt it...
As for walking under it, the tree and the fern are under a 5-foot concrete wall that separates the back from the side yard. You can't really walk under it (probably a good thing).
This weekend I'm going over there to try my luck at carving a few small chunks out of it. I got a moss wall basket from Lowes that I'll put a clipping in. I've got an oak tree in my back yard and I'll hang the clipping on that and see how it does in that setting and lighting.
God only knows how much the entire fern weighs...

    Bookmark   October 19, 2006 at 1:51PM
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ifraser25(z11 Brazil)

I'll be honest. I've never tried to transplant a large mature Stagshorn fern, but I have transplanted other ferns. For what its worth here are a few tips. Can you detach some of the bark of the tree with the fern attached without damaging either the tree or the fern? If you can this is your No1 method. Most epiphytic ( tree-growing) ferns have very shallow roots and don't penetrate the trunk of the tree. You can detach quite large pieces of bark without causing undue damage to the tree.
2. If you think this is not a viable option, try this: All ferns reproduce from spores. Try putting a few pots filled with crushed bark directly below the fern. This way when the plant produces spores many will fall onto the bark and from there grow. This method is slow but will produce many plants.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2006 at 11:45PM
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Have you thought of obtaining a mounting device of a similar size, cutting the fern, & transferring it? I have seen huge ones mounted on dead tree trunks in botanic parks. Sometimes they just put a piece of wood on top & let the fern grow. It is a way of using the trunk & not going through the effort of removing it. I have also seen people plant stumps in pots (in your case you might need a box) for other plants to grow on it. It would be a possible way of moving the plant later.
Your fertile leaves are the ones that come outside of the shield. You donÂt want to cut them of course. The wall basket sounds like a good idea, but when they get big they can grow out of & distort the basket. They are a little difficult to remove at that point, & it is hard to adequately keep them moist  at least in hotter climates. As you probably know you can hang these plants with fishing line or pantyhose.
Experimenting with small chunks is a good idea. I believe they are best divided in the spring. I had to transfer a few of mine recently, & they are luckily putting out new leaves.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2006 at 7:53AM
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only way I know to propagate your "Staghorn" take a sharp kitchen knife and cut out the young plants leaving about a 2" circle of moss on each pup. Fill the hole in the mother plant with new moss. Pot the pups in a moss based soil or mount them on a board. Board mounting is easy. Find a piece of wood you like. Hammer in about 10 roofing nails in a 12" circle. Fill the circle with 2" of long fibered sphagnum moss. Plant a pup or two in the moss. Tie a length of waxed or nylon string to one of the nails and just wind the string back and forth around the nails, creating a "spider web" fastening the plant to the board. I dont think you could move the whole plant without cutting down the tree.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2006 at 8:07AM
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I saw a staghorn yesterday in South Miami that reminded me of the one in my parents' tree. It was suspended beneath a tree with a huge industrial sized chain holding it up. No dining tables underneath, of course, or it might take out one of the paying customers!
I haven't done anything to the stag yet...I probably won't get to it until the weekend...when I do, I'll post a picture.
Thanks everyone for your wisdom.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2006 at 1:50PM
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rita, would you trade some of this plant? lmk

    Bookmark   November 14, 2006 at 2:43AM
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That's a beautiful fern. I haven't seen too many that size and have absolutely no idea how to remove it. Since the mango is no longer producing could it be cut down and the portion of the trunk that contains the fern salvaged? You could just split off a few inches with the bark that's supporting it. I can't keep a Staghorn growing outside of the greenhouse here.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2006 at 9:56AM
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I meant to post a follow-up a few weeks ago. I went over and took 3 cuttings off the fern. First of all, I started out using a kitchen knife (as was suggested), but made little headway in carving. Over the years, the fern had built up layers of under padding that were nearly 7 inches thick (thicker in some places). So I got a machete and first carved down through the layers and then up along the bark of the tree. The pieces that I carved were maybe 2 feet long by 1.5 feet in length at the base (but fanning out wider along the top because of the 3-foot long staghorn leaves). Some were small enough to fit into those moss wire baskets so I now have one hanging on my front porch (that wonÂt be itÂs final locationÂIÂm still debating that).

Ebb, IÂll be glad to carve out a piece for you. What size would you like? There are a few small pups (6 by 6 inches or less) growing on it. That would be manageable for mailing. The larger mats will require a larger box.
Here's one of the small pups.

Also, depending on where you put it (I assume you have a greenhouse in zone 7) it may not like your chilly winters.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2006 at 8:13PM
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Years ago we had a staghorn about that large. When we moved from Ft. Lauderdale to Clearwater, it went in the moving van, too--they put a bar across the end of the van just inside the back door and hung it from that bar! Worked really well.

If you put the pups into a basket lined with coconut fiber, tree bark, etc., and suspend it in a tree, it will form a solid ball, which will get bigger and bigger over the years--just like the one on the tree. As it grows, you will have to change the hanging system, of course. When the hanger on ours broke, we ended up putting chain around the ball and just hanging it back up. When you hang any plant from a tree branch, be sure to use a length of dead water hose or some such thing over the tree branch for the chain or wire to sit on so that it will not cut into the branch and kill it.

Once the staghorn forms a ball, it will be (and stay) open at the top. The leaves and stuff that fall into it are what feeds the staghorn, and they collect water much as bromeliads do.

Since we are headed into winter, on those occasions when there is a freeze, drape a blanket or sheet around it (or any other plant) and use safety pins or clothes pins (the pinchy ones with springs in them) to hold it closed, then put a lamp--without its shade--underneath it. Position the lamp so it is close to the plant but not touching it at all or you will burn the plant and may end up with a fire hazard. Also, be sure to situation the lamp, block it in or something, so the wind will not be able to tip it over.

Any time you cover a plant to protect it from freezing, DO NOT use clear plastic!!! It will do more harm than good. Use sheets, blankets, towels, that sort of thing. Also, make sure what you use for cover touches the ground all the way around--the point is to hold in the ground heat, not allow it to dissipate around the edges of the cover. If, as with the staghorn, you are putting a lamp under it, it is not desirable for it to touch the ground--the cover will hold in the heat. But do be careful to leave a wee bit of open space at the top to allow the accumulated heat to dissipate a little, so it doesn't cook the plant!)

    Bookmark   November 16, 2006 at 12:38PM
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I'd guess, if as you mentioned that tree it's on needs to come down, and it's not very huge in girth , you could remove the entire thing by cutting the trunk just above and below the area where the staghorn is attached and leaving the entire plant intact , and still attached to the "log" you'd get. Might take some finesse to cut the tree without damaging the fern however. I would guess as well, the roots don't extend into the "trunk" itself but are only attached to the outer bark of the tree and that might be removed possibly?? Not that familiar with mango tree bark however, and it might be more difficult than I'd expect.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2006 at 8:21AM
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aroideana(Tropical Australia)

Its not a Staghorn ; Platycerium superbum, they are single plants ,here we call the clumping one Elkhorn , Platycerium bifurcatum. Its super easy to pry it off the host plant . I removed dozens from trees blown down in the recent Cyclone we had here. They produce the grasping green fronds during winter so should grow onto new host tree easily . Tie on with wire or strong string . They can be feed with compost and manure wrapped in bags , a mate climbs up and feeds all his every 3 months with a chicken manure product called 'Dynamic lifter' he uses blood and bone over winter , each plant gets a good handfull.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2006 at 8:05AM
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It sure pays to read these posts, if one has a question about the "odd" growth one sees , or unexpected appearance of what you're used to seeing in photos of particular species of plants, and I was most accustomed to seeing the very large , but non-clumping staghorns and was somewhat surprised to see so many smaller plants in a clump. Thanks for the additional info, and it does explain the different appearance between "Elkhorns" and "Staghorns", though I have heard both names before.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2006 at 10:12AM
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We had a severe cold winter & my staghorn hasn,t produced any new shoots, I have only 1 small pup left the rest died before the winter was over. I thought I had it covered well enough with blankets, I need to transplant it into another basket & I,m afraid I will kill it. This fern is really old. An ideas for me?

    Bookmark   July 10, 2011 at 1:47PM
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I inherited a large Staghorn from a neighbor. I was in the hospital for a while and when i came back the basal ferns were all brown. Is it dying? What do I do? I think friends have been overwatering it too since I cant get out there, and after reading the posts. I dont see anything about the basal ferns getting brown and what that could mean. Any ideas?

    Bookmark   July 15, 2011 at 5:15PM
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I would like to invite anyone who loves staghorn ferns to our group on facebook. We are an international group of regular people who share photos and advice about platycerium.

See you soon!


Here is a link that might be useful: Staghorn fern owners group

    Bookmark   July 30, 2014 at 8:10PM
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