giant staghorn fern

The graphic at the top of this blog is based on a picture of a giant staghorn fern that I’ve been growing for the last decade or so. This is the plant:staghorn
The board it’s mounted to is four feet across, so you can get a sense for how big it is. As far as these larger staghorns go, it’s a teenager. This could easily get 50% larger over time. But even at its current size, people stop and comment.

The plant came labelled Platycerium grande, but I’m now convinced it’s actually the species superbum. (Edit April 10, 2011: Bob in a comment below wondered about which species this was, and I went off and did more research about how to tell these two species apart. The plants appear really similar at first glance. The main diagnosis is whether there are one or two of the patches with spores on the fruiting fronds. P. grande has two patches, P. superbum has one. My plant has the single area where the fronds first branch, so I’m sticking with P. superbum. Apparently superbums are commonly mislabeled grande in the horticultural trade.) As with other staghorns this species produces two kinds of fronds. Sterile, basal ones grow downward and serve to attach the plant to the trees it grows upon in nature. The more decorative fertile fronds grow up and out into the wild forms that earn these plants their “staghorn” name. These latter fronds can divide themselves into upright structures that do not bear spores, and lower ones that do.

Some resources like Staghorn Ferns at a Glance call this a “difficult” species, though that hasn’t been my experience in Southern California, maybe because excessive rains aren’t a problem. For a fern the plant doesn’t seem to care for huge amounts of water. A shot of water once a week or so keeps it happy. It lives on the north-facing side of a fence, so it get only small amounts of direct sunlight. The garden has seen some light frost over the years, and the plant stays outdoors through it all.

view of staghorn from above
A view of the staghorn from the top

Probably the trickiest part of dealing with the plant is moving it around and “repotting” it. The original plant came attached to a board that was about a foot square. As the plant grew I screwed the original board to boards of rot-resistant cedar, secured from behind to pieces going 90 degrees from the main support boards. That first change of supports was to one two feet square. When the plant outgrew it I attached that second support to the current support. To reduce the bulk of the previous support I carefully removed the backing boards that held the planks on the front face together. The fern had attached itself to the boards in the meantime, so it held the boards in place until I attached them to the new support.

Some growers attach sphagnum moss onto the boards where the fern will expand, but the last time I skipped that step and the plant has been happy enough with that decision. As the fronds die and are replaced with new ones, the old fronds decompose slowly, providing an area where moisture and nutrients can gather.

14 thoughts on “giant staghorn fern”

  1. It really *is* a wonderful looking plant. I think it’s cool the way it’s past nestled in the center like that. Sounds like it’d really HATE Cape Cod, though. Shame.

  2. I’m glad this fern likes me! I can’t say how many other cool plants I’ve gone through where we didn’t have that same relationship… Yes, Greg, this one would probably detest a Cape Cod winter, though it might do okay indoors…if you have a spare office it could take over…

  3. I am raising a Staghorn on my patio, here in Riverside (CA)…it is under a patio roof, so it is protected from the high winds and other inclement weather conditions. My concern is the temperature. As the weather is getting cooler, is there a specified range of temperature I can keep it out on my patio?

  4. Hi Rich, Riverside is can definitely get cooler at night than here in coastal San Diego. (I went to school in Riverside and can remember some pretty frigid mornings with heavy frost.) Some sources I’ve read say this staghorn is hardy to 30, others say to 25. My plant has tolerated brief periods of frost, including one year when the frost killed a few plants. Still, I’d try to protect the plant any night when frost is predicted. Your patio roof will help keep things a little warmer, and if the plant is up off the ground and against a warm wall, it’ll help for sure. Good luck with your plant. Pamper it just a little to keep it a little warmer than outdoors, and you’ll have a spectacular plant in no time!

  5. Why do you think its a superbum and not a grande?? I am buying one of each and just getting educated on both. My uncle has one that I am almost sure is the Phil. Grande and its dropping spores. I have a sure fire way to cultivate the spores but its going to cost me about 150 bucks. I’ve gotten different opinions on what it is. The guy that sold it to him said it was an elephantodis which is not for sure they are very distinctive.

  6. Jamesfern, I’m learning myself with these plants, so it’s possible that it’s the true P. grande. Looking at pictures of specimens, it looks like the true grande might not have the same finely-divided sterile fronds that my plant does, making me think it’s really superbum, which one site describes as the species that really often mis-identified for grande in the horticultural trade. Let me know if you think it might be something else. I’m glad to learn. Good luck with your plants. The best way to learn the plants well is to have them around you and watch them through the seasons.

  7. Do they both produce pups, I have purchased one of each that are very small like on a 12 inch board. Not sure if I got duped. The superbum I hear is very easy to grow and will tolerate a little more cold than the grande. I was going to take a shot at cultivating the spores then I saw a guy on the net had them near by. I have given a second thought now because he said they were collected in the phillipines where they are endangered but I had already paid him. I guess my redemption may be learning to propigate them and keeping the species going which I hear is not easy with the Grande. In anycase I need to figure out how to tell the diference first.

  8. to the original poster:

    I’ve been growing stags since the 70’s and still have the original one my mom got us started on. Firstly, I’m pretty certain yours in the pic is a Grande, but I’ll admit that I am not aware of any differences between the grande and the superbium. Could they be different names for the same plant? All the other varieties I’ve had you can start new plants simply by prying off plants from underneath the shields and attaching a number of ways to a board, basket, tree, or whatever you like. Grandes, however, can only be started by getting the spores on the undersides of the leaves to germinate, which takes from what I understand near perfect conditions. The point being, I believe it is the lower branches that are the male and the brown “fur” you see on the underside is the spores. I dion’t think the bottom ones aren’t he sterile ones as you talk about in your first paragraphs. I could be wrong, and if I am, I’m always looking to learn!

    I’m in Garden Grove now, and have plenty if anyone is interested. Also, I’ll add that over my years with them, they DON’T like to get too cold (frost or freezing) and I did have one year where I had a lot of problems with them in Lake Forest, but I believe that was because I had my misters going off in the early hours of the morning while it was still in the low temps and I think the water was freezing on them after it hit them. Just water when it’s not the coldest and I think you avoid the problems I had. take care all

    1. Bob, thanks for all your great observations. Yes, the sterile fronds are the upper ones, so that was a mistake on my part–I’ll correct the post when I get a chance. As far as the ID of the plant, mine did come identified as P. grande, but something along the way made me switch the name. I think superbums were sold as grandes for much of their existence, and I think I looked at some sort of key–not in totally corroborating fashion, however. So I think there’s a chance it’s still grande…some for further research. Fortunately I don’t get much in the way of frost, but this plant survived the big freeze of the early 90s that killed off some of the more tender garden plants. The watering has been the trickiest part for me, with the plant preferring drier conditions than I intuitively would want to give it…

  9. After my first post here I did a little research, and I believe the Grande became renamed Superbium. I’ve still got the original tag in mine and the tag actually says “Superbium, formerly Grande”. Unfortunately, it didn’t survive my move to Garden Grove. I think the heat within the moving truck cooked it. Still, I’m stubborn and as long as there’s a little pale green to it (make that, pale green/grey – I’m 98% sure it’s not going to recover), I’ll keep the faith and give it some water. Lastly, I’m under the impression (and discussions with my formally educated botany friends that they can only be propogated by growing the spores, adn they need near perfect conditions. A post up above says they produce pups, and someone got a 12″ one. I’d think that had been grown from spores. As you look at them and their ‘monolithic’ growth pattern, I don’t see where a pup with a new set of shelds could come out. Placerytums (sp?) have multiple and off centered shields that are obvious to gingerly pry off.

  10. I have a very large hanging staghorn fren that now hosts a growing carpenter ant colony. The location does not make the ants a pest. Will the ants cause harm to the fern and thus need to be eradicated (if so, how?) or can I hope for a symbiotic relationship?

    1. Mark, if you’re not bothered by the ants, my guess is that they won’t be bothering your staghorn. The main concern would be, if they’re carpenter ants, are you sure that they’re not munching on the wood board supporting the plant? Otherwise, I think things should be fine. There are even classes of plants called myrmecophytes, where ants and plants have a mutually beneficial relationship.

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