In Australia, Staghorn Ferns (Platycerium superbum – emphasis on the second syllable of the second word) and Elkhorn Ferns (Platycerium bifurcatum) are native to the south east forests in Queensland and north eastern New South Wales.
Staghorns reproduce through single cell spores and, although they grow well in Western Australia and South Australia and, with protection from the cold, can also be grown in temperate regions of Victoria and Tasmania, they will not readily propagate in these southern states. Staghorns in nurseries in these areas have generally been sourced from natural growth in Queensland or New South Wales.
While they can also reproduce through spores, elkhorns are usually propagated by cutting off individual plantlets from the mass of plantlets which make up a plant. Over time, these will bifurcate and multiply.
Staghorns and elkhorns do not like sub-zero conditions.
Staghorns are also found in Malaysia while elkhorns are native to many countries in tropical and sub tropical regions of the world.
These ferns are epiphytes; they grow on trees and feed on falling leaves and insects. Nourishment and moisture come from the air, not from roots in the ground or from the host tree.
A licence is required to harvest, propagate and sell staghorn and elkhorn ferns. This is to protect them from unauthorized harvesting in the wild. Buyers should look for ferns with a government tag to ensure that they have been legally obtained/grown by the seller. The licensing authority in New South Wales is the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Stagosaurus licence number is RRA/GWH/2012/01
In tropical and subtropical Australia, staghorns and elkhorns should be facing generally south in indirect or dappled sunlight, whether mounted on a backing board or attached directly to a tree, fence, wall or other supporting structure. Good air movement is also required. In colder areas such as Melbourne, the ferns should be kept on the dry side during winter.
Care and Maintenance
Staghorns and elkhorns are fairly low maintenance. They can be watered weekly in summer and once every 10 days in winter. Overwatering will cause rot, fatal to the ferns, which should be allowed to dry out between waterings. For established ferns, some experts say that watering can be left until they are showing signs of stress.
Half a handful of Dynamic Lifter twice a year is enough for an established fern. For younger staghorns, a suitably diluted liquid tonic such as Seasol, a seaweed concentrate, can be applied once a month in the warm months and once every two months at other times. Dilute the Seasol with water at a ratio of 1:1000.
While not strictly necessary for staghorn survival, banana skins can complement the potassium provided by chemical fertilizers. Cut the peel into small pieces and dry them. When they are dry and will not rot and attract insect pests, spread the pieces where the dead fronds gather so that the potassium leaches into the staghorn whenever the fern is watered.
Pests and Diseases
Staghorns and elkhorns are generally free of pests and disease but can be attacked by scale insects. These can be combatted by spraying Confidor over the leaf surfaces. To protect against staghorn beetle, snail pellets can be placed inside the holes that the beetles create.
If a staghorn or an elkhorn becomes too big for its mounting board, then the mounting board can be attached to a larger one. Alternatively, the staghorn can be demounted and attached to a larger mounting board or a tree, fence etc.