January 14, 2008

My Staghorn Fern

I just love ferns and find it amazing that there are more than 10,000 different species of these non-flowering perennials. They are so versatile for both planting in pots and in the landscape. One of my favorite types of fern, and probably one of the most unusual, is the staghorn. Native to the jungles of the Philippines, Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Australia, Madagascar, Africa, and the Americas, these plants are well suited for growing in warm and humid climates or in a heated greenhouse, as I do.

Like orchids, staghorn ferns are epiphytic. That means they don't need soil to grow in. Instead, in their natural environment, they attach themselves to tree trunks, branches, or rocks and get their nutrition primarily from air and water.

The plant grows two very different types of fronds. Sterile fronds are flat and round and are located at the base of the plant. These start out green and fade to brown. Emerging from the basal fronds are long and leathery antler-like fertile fronds, which form reproductive spores on the underside. As a staghorn matures, it will grow offspring, each with its own sterile base frond and protruding fertile fronds.

This gigantic staghorn fern was a gift from my television crew about 10 years ago. It was a specimen that had been growing in an old greenhouse for about 80 years. The plants have been living all that time attached to an old ceramic drainpipe. About once a year, we'll do a cleaning to remove dried fronds and any decayed material. As you can see, at about 90 years of age, this fern is thriving and absolutely gorgeous!


This is a close-up of the fern, showing clearly the sterile fronds and new growth emerging: