remounting the big staghorn

A view of the patient, unmounted, after it blew over in the winds.

Last week saw some pretty fierce winds in Southern California. The damage at home was the toppling of a potted kalanchoe–no big issue there–and the falling over of a big staghorn fern we’ve been growing for the last couple of decades. In falling over the plant detached from its mount and was a green and brown heap on the ground.

A large specimen staghorn is a thrilling sight, and two decades’ familiarity has given me a certain attachment to this plant. (It’s the botanical part of the graphic at the top of my blog pages.)

In nature these plants are epiphytes, attaching themselves to tree trunks or branches for support in the way many tropical orchids do. There are reports that orchids growing this way are referred to in Central America as “parĂ¡sitas,” through they, like the staghorn, use the host trees for support only and are in no way botanical vampires that suck the living essence from their hosts in the way mistletoe and dodder do.

Remounting a staghorn fern isn’t ridiculous complex, but task gets harder when the plant and support each way weigh forty pounds or more. Here’s what we did.

The failed back mount of the staghorn: The rotted boards you see are its second mount, which detached from the other mounts and was probably why the plant detached from the board when it blew over.
The back side of the staghorn, showing the original foot-square board which was still in fairly good condition--good enough to screw into to help support the forty pounds of fern. Some people report using plywood for the backing, but the layers of plywood will peel and look ugly unless you use the kind made with with waterproof adhesives.
The first pieces for the reengineered backing board. Working on the fairly regular surface of the brick patio was almost as good as assembling a project on a sheet of graph paper. I hardly had to do any measuring to keep things square. (And are those weeds growing in the cracks? Say it isn't so!)
The most recent backing boards were cedar, and still in good condition. Good enough to recycle for the project.
A little wreath of new sphagnum moss laid where the plant was going to be attached. (Actually I moved the moss higher on the board so that the plant would have more room to grow down below. It's the lower shield growth of the fern that actually attaches the plant to the support as it grows.)
In additional to the moss, we snuck this banana peel behind the plant. John saw something on the web where someone suggested incorporating a banana peel as a source of potassium to help the fern develop roots. Gardening seems to be about 40% hard work, 40% patience, 10% science, and 10% luck, magic or voodoo. This detail seemed a little like the voodoo part, but I figured it couldn't hurt.
The staghorn was attached to the new backing in several ways. Two lengths of plastic-coated electrical wire cinched around the least fragile parts of the plant. The most delicate new growth down below was attached using a length of pantyhose. I also ran two screws from behind into the intact original mount.
...a detail showing how the electrical wire and pantyhose tied into the screws that secured the backer boards to the support.

And here we have the finished product. The particular backing board is designed so that the backing can stand on the ground and not have to have the weight supported from behind. You could just make a placque without the legs if you want to suspend the plant from a wall or fence. In a few months all of the backing board should have turned to a uniform silver color.

It was a project I was dreading, but it probably took two people less than two hours to accomplish. That includes the trip to the Home Despot to pick up some additional sphagnum. So in the end: not really a project to dread.

(And let me say thank you to Big Edna for the use of the pantyhose!)

16 thoughts on “remounting the big staghorn”

  1. We had high winds here for a couple days but all is calm now. I was afraid for my pots getting bowled over but I guess it was more bluster in the neighbors palms and in the high trees than on my decks. That surely is a monster sized staghorn, quite magnificent. I’m glad you were able to restore it – familiarity does breed attachment I think, rather than contempt.

  2. I am forwarding this post to a friend charged with nursing a staghorn back to health. It was a sorry sight when it came her way, but perhaps there is hope for it yet.

  3. 20 years? Now that’s longevity. What a great looking staghorn! We’re supposedly due for some rains next week, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed on the forecast. I don’t mind the premature spring temps, but I’m not too keen on those wacky Santa Ana winds!

  4. An impressive staghorn you have, indeed. I was reading your post totally clueless as to what a staghorn actually was. A 40 pound epiphyte?!?! But that last and finished picture is amazing. What an awesome plant. I’m glad you went through the trouble to mount it.

  5. What a gorgeous staghorn that is. Fascinating to see the process of its restoration/repair. Thanks!

    For the record, it might be the Voodoo bits about gardening I love the best, but there’s no denying how much more my roses bloom with banana peels and coffee grounds.

  6. This really is certainly very useful since I’m currently building an on-line floral blog – although I am only starting out making it still very small, in contrast to this blog. Could I backlink to a few of the discussions here as they’re very intriguing. Appreciate it. Charlotte Jensen

  7. Was standing on my patio a few minutes ago and my huge staghorn took a header off the wall right in front of me! I almost fainted. I too have had mine for a long time and we’re attached to each other.
    Anyway, immediately googled how to remount one and found your info.
    Thank you, thank you, Thank You!
    I’ve never had to deal with one this large before.
    You have saved it’s life.
    All hail the regal Staghorn!

    1. Corri, good luck getting yours remounted. A year or so later, my remounting job is holding and the plant has put out lots of growth, attaching itself securely to the mount. I think you’ll do just fine with your remounting job!

  8. Very impressive Staghorn! I have two little ones that don’t seem to be thriving, despite my best efforts. Maybe I need to try mounting them on a board the way yours is displayed. They are currently in hanging baskets filled with peat moss.

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