Staghorns & Elkhorns

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Staghorn Lg

Staghorns and elkhorns are some of the most amazing-looking plants yet, despite their exotic appearance, they’re relatively easy to grow. The reason they look so different to most other plants is that they’e evolved to survive in the treetops. Stags and elks are epiphytic, which allows them to grow high up in the rainforest canopy.

Stags and elks have minimal root systems (just enough to anchor them to the tree) but they’re well adapted to catch leaves, debris and rainwater falling from above. Unlike most other plants, which absorb water and nutrients through their roots, these ferns can only survive if they capture sufficient quantities of moisture and nutrients from the surrounding air.

So how do we grow them in the garden? Well, success depends on re-creating the conditions these plants enjoy in the wild:


The best position is light shade with occasional patches of sunlight. Although they’ll cope with light frosts, the plants need good protection in cold areas.


Good drainage is essential and easy to maintain if the plants are attached to a suitable backing board made of long-lasting material. Although the ferns may grow on living trees in the rainforest this may be detrimental to the tree, so it’s best to attach them to an inert backing.

Supports can be made of wood, recycled rubber or an existing tree stump. Tie the fern onto the backing with a soft tie made out of something like a strip of nylon stocking. If the elk or stag becomes very weighty, it’s best to support it from beneath with some sturdy wire threaded through an old piece of plastic hose. This will stop the wire cutting into the soft tissue of the fern.


Feed gently. Stags and elks have minimal nutrient requirements. After all, they usually exist on little more than the rotting leaves they’ve managed to collect. Don’t overdo it: half a handful of gentle, organic Yates® Dynamic Lifter® pellets will be enough for an established fern. Re-apply twice a year. An alternative is to apply half-strength Yates® Thrive Soluble Plant Food every few weeks throughout the growing season.

Pests & Diseases

Happy staghorns and elkhorns are usually relatively free of pests and diseases but they are often attacked by scale insects. Treat sap-sucking scale insects by spraying Nature’s Way Citrus & Ornamental Spray thoroughly over the leaf surfaces. Use scissors to trim untidy leaves.

Don’t worry about large brown felty patches that develop beneath the fronds: these are the spores, the dust-like particles that represent the reproductive stage of these exotic plants.


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