It’s a fact: staghorn ferns are stunning. Mounted on a board, wrapped in vintage burlap, and hung a wall, these plants are truly living works of art.

There are dozens of species of staghorn ferns, and until recently, they were quite rare. Now though--thanks to species native to Australia, Platycerium bifurcatum, that is relatively easy to care for and propagate--they’re increasingly popular house plants. 

Staghorn fern care intimidates many people who visit our nursery, and we’ll be the first to admit that these plants can be picky. Before we dive into our best practices for staghorn fern care, it’s essential to know a bit of background information about how these epiphytic beauties grow.

Staghorn Ferns are Epiphytes

Though you can find young staghorn ferns sold in pots, mature plants need to be mounted to a board or hung in a hanging basket. Why? Because, like air plants, staghorn ferns are epiphytic plants, which means that in they grow on other plants or trees in their natural growing environments.

In the tropics (and even warmer parts of the US like Florida), staghorn ferns grow to truly massive proportions, jutting dramatically out of the crooks of trees. Their roots hold them in place, and they absorb water and nutrients through their fronds.

Anatomy of a Staghorn Fern

One of the reasons that staghorn fern care seems daunting is that the plant’s anatomy differs from that of most other common houseplants -- even other ferns. There are about 12,000 fern species, and ferns are amongst the most ancient plants. Whereas other plant species reproduce through flowers and seeds, ferns have neither; rather, they release microscopic spores into the air (a bit like mushrooms and mosses), which eventually become new plants.

Anatomy of a Staghorn FernFern leaves are actually called fronds, and staghorn ferns have two types. The first, and most prominent, is the “antler” frond - these are the large, bifurcated leaves that shoot out of the center of the plant, and from which staghorn ferns get their names, since they resemble the antlers of deer or moose. Spores develop on the lower these fronds, and look a bit like brown fuzz -- don’t remove the spores! This is a no-no in staghorn fern care.

The second type of staghorn fern frond is called the shield frond. These are the round, hard plate-like leaves that surround the base of the plant. Their function is to protect the plant roots, and take up water and nutrients. These fronds start out green, but eventually turn brown and dry up. This is a totally normal part of the staghorn fern life-cycle -- in fact, this is one of the most common misconceptions in staghorn fern care. A brown shield frond does not mean your staghorn fern is dying, and dried shield fronds should never be removed!

The final part of the staghorn fern is the root ball. Since stags are epiphytes, their root systems are fairly minimal, and help the plant attach to its home. Because the roots are so minimal, staghorn ferns need extensive drainage and are particularly susceptible to root rot.

Now that we have a bit of background about these mounted beauties, here’s our best practices for staghorn fern care.


How Much Light Does a Staghorn Fern Need?

When you picture a fern, you probably imagine the shady, lush forest floors of the Pacific Northwest. You might then think that your stag will appreciate a dark space, but you would be wrong! Staghorn ferns are native to the tropics -- the species that we most commonly feature, Platycerium bifurcatum, is native to Australia.

Staghorn ferns need bright, indirect or diffused light to thrive, though most species must be protected from the harsh rays of the direct sun. We tell people to put staghorn ferns in the brightest space in their home where, again, the plant will not take direct sun. Rooms with Southern and Eastern exposures tend to be best, though unobstructed North windows will do. Western light is fine, but be careful, as this afternoon exposure tends to be hot and harsh.

Can Staghorn Ferns Survive in Artificial Light?

Unfortunately, the short answer is no. We don’t recommend putting your staghorn in a room without natural sun. Basements tend to be a no-go.


How to Water a Staghorn Fern

How to water a staghorn fern

Your watering regimen consists of two processes: misting and soaking.

Misting the fronds

  • Use a spray-bottle that emits a fine, ambient mist, such as a brass mister.
  • Mist the entire plant, focusing on the underside of the antler fronds and the shield fronds.

Watering the roots

  • Soak your staghorn fern facedown in a sink or basin of water for about 5 minutes, or until the roots are fully saturated.
  • Alternately, place the plaque in a sink or shower, and allow room-temperature water to run over the root ball until it is saturated.
  • Allow your plant to drip dry before re-hanging.

How Often to Water a Staghorn Fern

Under and over-watering are the most common causes of staghorn fern failure. There is no hard and fast rule as to how often a staghorn fern will need watering - the amount of light, humidity, and heat they receive in your home will dictate your watering schedule. However, here are a few rules that tend to work well for us:

  • A good rule of thumb is to water once per week in dry, hot times of year, and once every one to two weeks during cooler months. Start with this schedule, and adjust as necessary depending on your space.
  • Staghorn ferns absorb water through their fronds, as well as their roots. This means that they respond well to misting and appreciate humid spaces.
  • More humidity = less watering. If your staghorn fern is in a space where it receives lots of ambient humidity, like a bathroom, you’ll probably be able to reduce your misting and watering.
  • More light or heat = more watering. During the summer, be especially attentive to your stag. Most species can handle a bit of drought, even to the point of wilting, but not much more. Through summer and fall, mist your plant regularly, and check the moss at the base of the plant regularly for dryness.
  • Less light or heat = less watering. Remember that these plants don’t tolerate overwatering. During the winter, you’ll likely need to cut back on watering. Keep in mind, though, that if your plant is directly over a heating duct or near a fireplace, that will dry your plant more quickly.
  • If the antler fronds begin to brown or blacken at the base, this is a sign of over-watering. Reduce watering to once monthly until plant shows sign of recovery
  • If the antler fronds begin to brown at the tips or wilt, this is a sign of under-watering. Increase watering as needed.

A Note on Moosehorn Ferns

Moosehorn ferns (Plateceryium grande) are more drought tolerant and slightly more susceptible to root-rot than other staghorn fern species.

To water these plants, we recommend that when the soil/moss at the base of the plant feels dry (if no moss is exposed, gauge by weight), place plant under faucet and run the tap so water flows on the board, behind the plant, for about 3 minutes.

Try to avoid wetting the foliage. If a black spot appears on the flat shield frond, that is an indication of over-watering. Try decreasing watering and improving air circulation to make sure the plant is able to adequately dry out after watering. This is especially important during winter.


Staghorn ferns are surprisingly cold-hardy, but for optimal growth, the temperature should not be allowed to drop below 50 degrees or above 100 degrees.

Staghorn ferns can be placed outdoors when temperatures stay within this range. Be extra careful to keep staghorns out of direct sun and well-watered when hung outdoors. Bring your staghorn fern back inside when temperatures get chilly at night.


Fertilizing your staghorn fern will promote vigorous growth, especially in younger plants.

Feed your staghorn fern monthly during periods of active grown (spring and summer). Use a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer (ratio of 1:1:1). During periods of dormancy (fall and winter), reduce fertilizing to every other month.

Some people suggest feeding your staghorn fern by slipping a piece of banana peel under the shield frond, but indoors that might cause a fruit fly issue.

Mature staghorn ferns can survive with a twice-yearly feeding.

Remounting Your Staghorn Fern

Our burlap-wrapped staghorn ferns are intended as permanent installations, and we don’t recommend re-mounting your staghorn fern. Since the plant is epiphytic, the root space on the original board will be sufficient.

Re-mounted giant moosehorn fern at Pistils Nursery

However, when the shield fronds begin to creep to the edges of the plaque, standard practice is to attach your board to a larger piece of wood with a few nails (see image). Be careful not to nail through the shield frond or root ball when remounting!

Platycerium grande | Moosehorn Fern

Follow these staghorn fern care guidelines, and you should see your plant thriving in no time! Have any questions or your own best practices for staghorn fern care? Share with us in the comments!

Pistils Nursery


I have a staghorn fern mounted hanging in my bathroom. The moss around the root ball is bone dry and brown, but the shield frond has started to turn black around the edges. I haven’t watered the plant since I brought it hone from the store, but have misted it every other day, and shower in the room daily. Should I stop misting the plant?

— Susan

I got 3 ferns at a donation church sale last year. I cut the fronds off the top and now that it’s spring it’s starting to flourish. I’m glad to Google and find out all this info and how to care for it.

— Jo Tester

I have a very large staghorn hanging under my Camphor Tree. It was growing beautifully until last week. We had 3 nights of freeze, it is mostly brown. There are several horns and fronds on the bottom that were unaffected by the freeze . Will the remainder of it come around?

— Gail

My stag horn fern was in a pot for about a year creating an elongated root “ball”. I’m having difficulty attaching it to a board because of how fat the root is. Recommendations?

— Carla

Great site. We have 30 stag horns mounted on cypress back boards around the house of various sizes.These were taken from a massive staghorn 1.5 width plant.
Currently all our stags are turning brown and dry looking at shields level.
We don’t over water and feed all our banana skins as fert,for them.
We are in our spring time,should the above be happening?
Your advice would be appreciated.
Thankyou Gary.

— Gary Trethewey Bayof Plenty New Zealand

My daughter gave me a plant when her daughter was born – turned out to be a stag horn, but it was in a small pot – as it got larger, I tried to mount it on a board and now it is doing nothing, no new shield fronds have grown – is it dead? If not how do I revive it?

— Liz

I have a very large staghorn probably 80 inches in diameter. It takes five men to move it. When I watered it this morning because it was looking a little dry it was full of bees what can I do?

— Donna Knox

Hi, I just got handed down to me from my uncle an almost 40 to 50 year old staghorn. Its huge! Never had one before but its being kept in the family, my great uncle first had it. Am I able to split this thing up to make smaller ones? Two people have to carry it its so big. I want to make sure I take care of it right to maintain its history.

— A. Tanaka

I have quite a few stags and elks in my hot house l really worried about the temperature at night in winterit gets down to -1 to -9 sometimes l lost some last year l have put double layers of plastic for hot house and shade cloth what do u suggest as some of the stags are 40 years old can u help

— Rosemary LYONS

could I fit a Staghorn fern on a tree trunk? Could a tree have a thick bark like an Eucalyptus tree. Thank you for any advice

— Bruno

Hi I receive a beautiful staghorn fern !
It’s big I placed it into a board but is the back of the plant meant to be hollow or should I but in potting mix ! Its beautiful

— Sophie

My folks gave me my staghorn about 10 years ago and they had it for about 15 years before that. It had trouble (due to neglect) when I was moving. It bounced right back after some banana. We give it banana several times a year. It prefers very ripe, like ready for banana bread ripe. We wipe/spread a bit of banana mush all over the shield fronds close to where the antler fronds are growing out from, and drop some behind each one where possible. We don’t use the peel at all. It is a noticeably happy plant after a week or so. Don’ t be afraid of the banana, your fern will love it. Portion wise, my plant is pretty large, the shield fronds cover an area of about 2 feet tall by 1.5 feet across and we use 1 whole ripe banana.

— Jessica

Hi! I purchased a mounted staghorn in May of this year. I live in a hot, dry location but mist it daily and soak it once weekly (fertilizing once every 3 weeks.) It’s getting very droopy which I understand means that it needs more moisture so I plan to relocate it to my bathroom where there is higher humidity. But my bigger concern is that it has yet to grow any shield fronds. I am very careful to never remove any fronds unless they have died (I have lost 2 or 3 antler fronds) but despite that there is still no sign of any shield fronds coming in. Will the increased humidity help perpetuate that growth or am I missing something else completely? Would love any thoughts/advice!

— Nicole Montagano

I Need help,
I have a Staghorn with more than 20 sprouts on it.
My poor fern has fallen, how do I save it and put it back on the wall.
It’s about 26” wide, 16” deep and 36” tall.

— Bob

I had a huge hanging stag horn but we removed the tree. And then I took several pups and attached to a tree. They grew great, then after years of bags of leaves from an olive tree and roots taking over removed, Didn’t know what to do with my staghorns but I had two small trees in the backyard and just figured out how to attach them actually I tied them around with bungee cord maybe I should remove it because the bigger one is attached now. I have put banana pills behind them but I don’t know if that was a good idea because they really didn’t get a lot of ants. But I use the hose and I just water basically behind the base of the Staghorn.

— Carole

I have a medium size staghorn attached to a board. It began as a quite small specimen. All I have ever fed it is banana peels. It now has a “baby” growing out the side of it.

— Joshua

Hello! Thank you for all the information and education about Australia, Platycerium bifurcatum, and Moosehorn ferns — Plateceryium grande . I was wondering if it is proper or ok to cover the large brown facia fronds with moss?

— Laurie A Hilderbrand

I have a very old, very large Staghorn that is in a shallow pot. I have never moved it outside, but decided to put it out this year, in shade. I live in Michigan, so it will be just for the warm summer weather. It is so big, I don’t think I should mount it at this point. I would not have a good place to hang it. Also, I have never repotted it, and wonder if I should. This thing is so big, I have trouble finding space for it in our common areas, so it is in a spare bedroom. How big do they get, how long do they live?

— Terri

Please any info on how to get seedlings to grow when your seems to have a lot of shields growing all of a sudden, It is now our winter season and I put in inside home to protect against cold temps sometimes -5 degrees celsius
Thanks waiting for your reply

— Ulrich Heinenmann

Hi, thank you so much for this post. I received a staghorn fern a couple months ago not knowing it was an epiphite. The little guy is still small, and doesn’t have a shield frond. Is this normal for the plant not to have a shield frond? I mounted it on a board and hung it under a tree, where it will stay for the summer. It gets lots of moisture and it seems happy. I would REALLY appreciate some advice, thanks!

— McKenzie Baker

I’ve had this plant for almost a year and so far it’s been thriving in a coconut husk pot. It recently began growing new basal fronds. Without knowing what this plant was I removed some of the brown base fronds and now I’m kicking myself. Will it survive? What can I do? I’m hoping the new fronds will be enough to keep it alive and thriving.

— Kelly


I purchased a couple “fairy plants” for my succulent garden last spring. 2 of them were improperly labeled and as you can imagine after immense research I discovered they were stag horn ferns. They are thriving really well in my tea pot planter, but was concerned for them when I noticed the fronds (at the time not knowing what that was) were both green and brown. I thought something was wrong and smart to research what to do so I can care better for them. This was yesterday, so I’m a bit overwhelmed with all the information I am finding and knowing that I have to mount them now. As mine are only a year old and in the same pot, do you have any suggestions and recommendations for how to go about transitioning them to either a hanging basket or a mounted piece of cedar wood? Also, I have seen more mounted to wood then being in a hanging basket. What are the pros and cons between the two? As a side note, my shield frond is already 5 inches wide by 4 inches long and the fronds are 12 inches long. Any information and encouragement would be wonderful. Thank you so much!

— Faith

I have a big staghorn fern that was left growing underneath a hedge. I pulled it out of the dirt this week. It was getting over-run with weeds. Some tree roots started growing out of it. I am planning on carefully “breaking up” the various parts of the fern and separating the weeds and tree roots out of it. Any advise on how to approach separating it to minimize shock?

— Maria Williams

Hi! Thank you for this blog post! So helpful and informative. I just bought a beautiful mounted staghorn a week ago. The fronds still look happy and healthy but they are starting to dip downward. It is hanging right in front of (practically touching the frame of) a north-facing window that gets bright indirect light all day. I have misted the fronds twice since I got it and also saturated the moss with my mister but have not dip soaked it yet. Could that be why it’s getting a bit “droopy” for lack of a better description? Would love any thoughts and input! I want it to thrive!

— Nicole

I have had this beauty for 5 years. It is about 5 feet across and about 3 1/2 tall. I water it weekly and only give it mostly banana peelings and an occasional banana. It is hung between the trunks of pine trees. So, yes! Bananas are great!

— R-M M

Hello, I recently bought a stag horn fern at a Home Depot. I was honestly surprised to find it there! Anyway, it is in a hanging pot. It appears happy in its pot… is it fine to leave it as is or repot it into a nicer looking pot? Or should I consider attempting to mount it on a board? Thank you!

— Elsa Berndt

Hi i love staghorns! I would love to put one on my balcony. However it can get a bit breezy (but not many gales). The balcony faces south west and so there is no direct sunlight. I am on the 21st floor of an apartment block in the some what temperate climes of the Gold Coast of Queensland Australia. Do you think this sort of home is suitable? Thanks for help? PS i love your articles. Comprehensive, readable and useful. Thanks!

— Michelle Burgermeister

Thanks you for some interesting and helpful remarks mine is growing on a orchid tree about 4 ft high . Had it for yrs, it is gone completely around the tree about 3 ft across growing into the fence . I took my chainsaw and got as close to the base and cut and then took my shovel and pried it off the rest of the way. I will be passing it on to our people Thank you and be safe, Greg .

— Greg Steffens

I have a large Staghorn hanging outside with wild ferns growing out of it. At first I thought it added character to the plant but then I found myself wondering if they may be damaging the stag or taking from its water supply. So should I pull the wild ferns out or leave them alone?

— Steve

Hi, I’m looking for a Large Staghorn mounted on board to hang on tree outside a window in my home. Any ideas where I can find one?

— Connie Walton

I just bought what looked like (is) a stag horn fern in a big chain grocery store! It’s potted in soil! My husband grew up w one in SoCal and knew that wasn’t right. I don’t really want to mount it on a board to hang in the house. Can I remove the soil and wrap the base in peat moss & burlap and hang it in a basket above the kitchen sink! It would get bright like and occasional steam from the faucet…???
Thank you!

— Susan Morrison

I bought a Stag about 4 or 5 yr ago at a local box store.
I stick it in a decorative metal hanging basket where it’s been since.
I live in Louisiana where our winters are very mild but when everything else goes in the greenhouse, he goes with them.
I heat my greenhouse with ceramic heaters and keep it around 50 degrees
He’s happy as can be and I’ve got a couple of different plants growing out the sides.
I am terrified of mounting on a board and messing up a good thing

— Cherié Foster (gardenhoe)

I bought a beautiful large staghorn fern about 28 year ago. In that time i have had to reattach it to a larger board several times. Just recently the front part of the fern (the green front part and green ball leafy part of the fern ) fell off the fern leaving the black under part of the fern on the board. I reattached it back to the fern. My question is. What else can I do so as to save the fern as i have become very attached to it and don’t want to loose it.It is a beautiful plant and i estimate it could be over 70 years of age. Please give me your advise of what I should do.

— Tony

I got my stag horn several years ago. Sold in hanging plastic pot as foliage. I knew what it was and have enjoyed watching it grow. My question is how can I split it and make it into several plants? Do you wrap the burlap around the rootball and then nail to board? Any help is appreciated. Thank you

— Nancy Russell

My daughter and I are both nurses. She bought me a vintage enamel bedpan for Christmas and knows that I plant in very odd things. I’m wondering if a stag horn fern would work well in this. After reading your article I would think I could mount the 2 small ones that I purchased on/in a cedar box fitted in the bedpan with spagnum moss and hung on north facing wall under the eaves of the porch. We live in Louisiana and the humidity is high most of the year. I know this is an odd thing to plant in but with my quirky taste it is perfect. I hoping this will work. Thanks for any advice.

— Nancy

Hi! I have a staghorn mounted in a coconut shell and I’ve had it for a little over two years. Up until now, it’s been healthy and growing. Now all of a a sudden it is wilting and not perking up with water! I’m not sure what to do and how to bring it back to life. Help!

— Samantha Weiss

I live in Florida and our staghorn was gifted to my parents as a wedding gift 30 years ago and was already considerable in size but not large. Its hung from a rope on a tree in our backyard all this time and has ballooned to be massive, larger than a meter across I’d say for sure which I see listed as the size of a full grown large fern. We provide no care for it other than letting it hang as it largely fertilizes itself. We thrown banana peels , fruit peels, and egg shells into the top of it to boost it but the best fertilizer comes from nesting birds and animals that like to have babies in the top and its always a big boost to the fern. Its becoming truly unruly and I’d like to start propagating it as it was for my parents 30 years ago. The guy just took a chainsaw to his massive fern and cut off a big chunk and its been hanging on a rope out back ever since .

— Mike

This article is very informative and helpful , thank u 🌸🌿🌺

— Jean orlando

Ms. Elaine Meyers, I wish you many more years for you to spend with your beloved ferns.

— Lisa Brissett