Staghorn Fern Spores: Growing Staghorn Fern From Spores
By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer
Staghorn ferns (Platicerium) are fascinating epiphytic plants that in their natural environment grow harmlessly in the crooks of trees, where they take their nutrients and moisture from the rain and moist air. Staghorn ferns are native to the tropical climates of Africa, Southeast Asia, Madagascar, Indonesia, Australia, Philippines, and certain tropical areas of the United States.
Staghorn Fern Propagation
If you’re interested in staghorn fern propagation, keep in mind there are no staghorn fern seeds. Unlike most plants that propagate themselves via flowers and seeds, staghorn ferns reproduce by tiny spores that are released into the air.
Propagating staghorn ferns in this matter can be a challenging but rewarding project for determined gardeners. Don’t give up, as staghorn fern propagation is a slow process that may require numerous attempts.
How to Collect Spores from Staghorn Fern
Collect staghorn fern spores when the tiny, brownish black dots are easy to scrape from the bottom side of the fronds– usually in summer.
Staghorn fern spores are planted on the surface of a layer of well-drained potting media, such as a bark or coir-based compost. Some gardeners have success planting staghorn fern spores in peat pots. Either way, it’s critical that all tools, planting containers, and potting mixes are sterile.
Once staghorn fern spores are planted, water the container from the bottom using filtered water. Repeat as needed to keep the potting mix lightly moist but not soaking wet. Alternatively, mist the top lightly with a spray bottle.
Place the container in a sunny window and watch for staghorn fern spores to germinate, which may take as long as three to six months. Once the spores germinate, a weekly misting with a very dilute solution of a general-purpose, water-soluble fertilizer will provide necessary nutrients.
When the tiny staghorn ferns have several leaves they can be transplanted to small, individual planting containers.
Do Staghorn Ferns Have Roots?
Although staghorn ferns are epiphytic air plants, they do have roots. If you have access to a mature plant, you can remove small offsets (also known as plantlets or pups), along with their root systems. According to University of Florida IFAS Extension, this is a straightforward method that involves simply wrapping the roots in damp sphagnum moss. The small root ball is then attached to a mount.
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How we propagated the giant staghorn fern our way
The Giant Staghorn Fern or capa de Leon ( Platycerium grande ) can be propagated deliberately from spores even without following the advanced, but meticulous, procedure in fern spore propagation. The latter involves the sowing of mature spores on sterilized fragments of вЂњcabo-negroвЂќ or вЂњpaslakвЂќ and maintaining humid condition all throughout until germination and seedling emergence. Mass propagation by spore can also be done through tissue culture.
Cabo-negro is a local term for the indigenous, black, trunk-like columnar plant organ probably consisting of the root of a giant terrestrial fern.
It was only by accident that we discovered that the Giant Staghorn can be mass produced sustainably by exploiting its natural method of propagation. WeвЂ™ve had several large Giant Staghorn ferns in the backyard at General Santos City since about 40 years ago, but we always grow these from starter plantlets or juvenile ferns which we bought from private suppliers. Until recently, the city had a hot climate with scarce rainfall.
Giant staghorn fern with mature brownish spores
Then one day about a year ago, my mother Mama Maxi noticed plantlets, with only overlapping basal fronds, growing from the side of a lone, upright cabo-negro which has been used as support for epiphytic orchids for several years. The cabonegro was about 5 meters away from a huge Giant Staghorn Fern which clasped the trunk of a Fishtail Palm. Orchids grew on top of the cabonegro and so it was regularly sprinkled with tap water. The Staghorn itself regularly produced spores from the underside of its foliar frond.
My mother taught us the basics of gardening. At 74, she still tends the various ornamental crops, seedlings and vegetables in the backyard. She extracted the fern plantlets from the cabonegro with the help of a knife, including a segment of the cabonegro which held the roots of the fern. She then attached it to a segment of a coconut husk.
Having observed the natural way in which the Giant Staghorn Fern reproduces, we developed a protocol to propagate the fern from spores using readily available materials. We followed these procedures:
1. Harvesting of spores. We harvested the mature spores by scraping those вЂњbrownsвЂќ from the underside of the fronds, placing them in an envelope, and allowing them to dry by air drying without closing the envelope. Otherwise, we cut the spore-containing frond, divide it into smaller segments, inserted the segments in a paper envelope, and dried them by exposing the envelope to full sun. After a few days, the spores separate from the fronds. These dry spores can be placed in a closed glass jar or plastic canister and stored under refrigeration.
Moistened slabs of wood with fern plantlets in plastic bags
2. Sowing of spores and care. We dusted the dried spores on the sides of the same standing cabonegro. The cabonegro was kept moist by regular watering. Care of the sown spores and plantlets, therefore, became incidental to the management of orchids which grew at the top portion of the cabo-negro.
3. Extraction of fern plantlets. It was ascertained that the green growth on the side of the cabonegro belongs to the Giant Staghorn Fern. W hen several plantlets reached a horizontal width of about 4-5 cm, we extracted them from the cabonegro. A chisel was used because a piece of cabonegro which held the base of a plantlet had to be included. Where several plantlets grew tight, it was necessary to slice one single but relatively wide and somewhat flat segment of the cabonegro.
The plantlets were then separated individually, taking care that as much as possible each plantlet remained attached to a segment or at least a strand of cabonegro. Sometimes it was possible to pry the cabonegro segment by hand to separate a plantlet. But in most cases the cabonegro had to be sliced with a sharp tool or with a pruning shear.
4. Transplanting of fern plantlets. Each plantlet + cabonegro segment was immediately immersed in water, pressed on a small piece of a decomposing coconut husk, and tied to a small slab of coconut trunk or wood lumber (we used rejects) or split bamboo.
The coconut trunk segments (or substitute) with attached plantlets were then watered and inserted into plastic bags. Each bag was closed tightly and kept under shade for at least 7 days without opening. This is an application of the plastic tent method, also called вЂњbukotвЂќ or вЂњkulobвЂќ system, which ensures that the plant is kept under high humidity, a condition which favors healing from shock and root development.
5. Care and management. The plastic bags were monitored daily to ensure that moisture inside each bag was maintained. But all bags remained cloudy from outside instead of being clear. This indicated that moisture remained and just circulated inside .
After at least 7 days, the plastic bags were opened and the plantlet-bearing slabs were removed. The slabs were hung under partial shade and tended intensively. Care mainly involved regular watering.
Disclaimer: We are not promoting the harvesting and trading of cabonegro. We are in fact experimenting on other possible growth media for fern spore germination and growth.
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Staghorn Fern Features: An Overview
- Of all Platycerium species, only P. bifurcatum common.
- Staghorn ferns are considered hard to grow.
- Staghorn fern plants are epiphytic.
- There are two specific leaf forms on the Staghorn fern plant.
- The base feature pronged fronds that are a dark green color.
- Make sure to nurture young staghorn fern with rich compost soil.
- Many fronds on Staghorn fern plants can grow as long as three feet long.
- The Staghorn fern is a native Australian plant.
- It is important not to over saturate epiphyte plants or risk damaging their roots.
- This fern is unable to tolerate direct sunlight.
- The staghorn fern plant grows well when mounted on plaques.
An important aspect of staghorn fern care that you should not forget is humidity. Since they are native to tropical regions, staghorn ferns thrive in high humidity. A humidifier is an easy way to provide humidity. Also, staghorn ferns make great bathroom plants for this reason.
You can mist your fern every few days as well, just be careful with this. Having a constantly wet fern can cause fungus or rot.
I wrote about easy ways to create humidity for your houseplants with step-by-step instructions, so be sure to check out that post for more help!
Staghorn Fern Care
Feed the plant with a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer to promote active growth in summer. You can also place banana peels under the fronds for lush growth!
Pests and Diseases
Staghorn ferns can be affected by aphids and scale insects that can be handpicked or washed away with a strong jet of water. Droopy leaves indicate lack of water.
They don’t need pruning or grooming, but you can remove old and withered ‘fertile’ leaves. Also, remove sheath-shaped ‘sterile’ leaves.
Repotting is only needed when the plant outgrows the container or basket. Gently remove staghorn from its pot and move it to the new container. Cover the roots completely except stems and fronds with a starter mix.