Gardening enthusiasts are always in search of unusual plants that have unique growing habits and appearances.
Platycerium Bifurcatum or Elkhorn Fern is native to Eastern Australia, New Guinea, and Java.
This plant is named after the Elk horns that resemble the fronds. This fern is different from the traditional ferns you see growing everywhere.
This fern plant is found growing on trees in its natural habitat. It’s an epiphytic plant, so it derives both nutrients and moisture in the air.
If you let this plant grow on a host, it can fend for itself with little maintenance and help from your side.
Some gardeners believe it’s a challenging plant because the growing habits vary from traditional houseplants. In this article, I’m sharing everything I’ve been doing to take care of my Elkhorn Fern.
This is a rare species, so it’s sold at a higher price compared to regular houseplants.
Elkhorn Fern Care
Elkhorn fern will grow in sphagnum moss with weekly watering. For lighting, choose a spot with indirect sun. Maintain temperatures of 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 to 26.67 degrees Celsius). Provide high humidity in the 70-80% range and fertilize once to twice a year using a liquid ferilizer.
Many growers have recommended growing it in the outdoor garden if you want the plant to get truly big. Make sure you use sphagnum moss between this fern and the host tree or plant.
Epiphytic plants do need soil for nutrients. In fact, soil only serves the purpose of an anchor or support.
If you bought this fern in a container with potting soil, you should consider mounting it in the coming spring.
I would recommend using a soilless medium such as sphagnum moss. Even if it’s planted in a pot, make sure the medium is well-draining as this variety is accustomed to good air circulation.
The Elkhorn Fern needs regular watering, especially during the dry months of the summer season.
My watering schedule includes watering this plant once a week. This prevents the plant from drying out completely and keeps it moisturized without overwatering.
This frequency suits the growing environment, temperature, and humidity of my house, but you can adjust as per plant needs.
You can mist the plant to keep the growing medium moist. Mist the entire fern by filling up with water a spray bottle.
Another watering method is the soaking method, where the plant is soaked in water for 10-20 minutes.
Also, you can put the fern in a sink or tub filled with room temperature water.
There is no fixed time for how often this variety should be watered, but you can water it every week in hot weather. For moderate or cold weather, watering it after one or two weeks is enough.
For good plant health, reduce the watering frequency in cold months. In dry or hot weather, check the moss regularly to ensure your fern is not sitting in a dry medium.
If you have placed your Elkhorn Fern in the bathroom, it needs less water. This is because it’s already absorbing moisture from the air.
Take extra care if you are growing it in the garden. It will survive in a spot with filtered sunlight. Protection from the mid-noon sun is important if you do not want the delicate ferns to burn.
Indoors you can keep it under low to medium light. I would suggest placing it next to a window with blinds, this way the plant will get bright but filtered sun.
Sunrooms or greenhouses are also great for indoor gardening of this fern. Artificial lights can also fulfill the light requirements of this plant but make sure they are not placed very close to the plant.
This plant can be grown in cold or mild tropical areas.
This plant cannot tolerate temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius) and more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.7 degrees Celsius).
These are two extreme temperatures. The average temperature range for this type of fern is 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 to 26.67 degrees Celsius).
Misting is an easy approach to create a high humidity atmosphere for your houseplants. This plant is demanding in terms of humidity, so never keep it in a dry atmosphere.
If your house lacks humidity, you can frequently run a plant humidifier to keep the air humidity levels up. 70-80% humidity works well for this plant.
This fern can absorb moisture through the roots and foliage. So if your plant is being misted regularly, I would suggest reducing the watering frequency else it will be overwatered.
Correct fertilizing can make a noticeable difference in plant health, especially when they are young. The young plant should be fed regularly in growing months, and mature plants should be fed twice a year.
I prefer seaweed fertilizer; it supplies everything this fern variety requires for excellent growth as a garden or indoor plant.
You should use half the strength recommended by the manufacturer for two reasons; artificial plant food can burn the foliage, and this plant does not like feeding too much.
You can also go for complete fertilizer such as 1:1:1. You can even feed the Elkhorn Fern with banana peel.
This plant likes a crowded root system, so you do not have to repot it every year.
Schedule your repotting during the spring when the Elkhorn fern’s the healthiest.
This plant does not require heavy or frequent pruning.
Only trim the fronds in case of infection or disease. Make sure you trim near the base using a sharp and clean tool.
If your Elkhorn Fern is taking over the garden or indoor area, you can propagate it and divide it into multiple plants.
Like other ferns in this category, Elkhorn does not produce any seeds. This plant reproduces via the spores.
You can harvest the spores; they are usually found on the leaves’ undersides. These spores look like dust, and gardeners often confuse them for pests.
As the plant matures, it will produce pups or plantlets which can be separated from the mother plant.
It is highly recommended to sterilize your cutter or knife with rubbing alcohol before using it on the plant. This will prevent any unwanted infection.
Whether you use a cutter or knife, it should be sharp; else, the mother plant will be damaged during propagation.
Cut the pup and wrap it in sphagnum moss. Make sure the moss is moist.
This fern does not grow any flowers or seeds as reproduction is carried out via spores.
It grows large fronds, but it is a slow grower. This fern plant grows two types of leaves.
The first type is heart-shaped and attaches itself to nearby trees and boards.
The second type is fork-shaped and trails downwards. The fronds vary in shades of green and grey. The plant can reach a mature size of 6 ft.
This fern has an epiphytic growing habit, which means it needs a host plant to grow on. However, the host plant is not responsible for the nutrients or water.
Such plants receive their food and moisture from the atmosphere via rain or decaying matter.
Steps for Growing Elkhorn Fern with a Mounting Board
One of the best ways to showcase the beauty of this fern is by growing it with a mounting board.
Take a look at the steps in mounting your Elkhorn Fern below:
- Take a wooden mounting board and choose the wall or the location where you would like to display this plant.
- Now mix peat moss and sphagnum moss. Place this mixture on the board.
- Place the Elkhorn Fern on this mixture and tie it with stockings or a garden tie. The tie should be wrapped around the trunk of the plant and the mounting board.
- You can also hammer the moss but make sure you do not hammer the fronds.
- Alternatively, place the root system of the fern in burlap with some moss.
- Lightly mist the plant to soak the moss and leaves in water.
- Use hooks in hanging the Elkwood fern board to the wall.
- Feed the plant with banana peels, leaf litter, and tea leaves until the root system has attached itself to the host. Once that happens, the plant will start feeding itself, and you do not have to add anything.
Common Problems for Elkhorn Fern
The only bugs that will create a problem for Elkhorn Ferns are mealybugs and scales. Spray the Elkhorn fern with an insecticidal soap to remove these bugs.
Rhizoctonia Leaf Spot
This type of bacteria attacks the host plant at the soil line resulting in root and foliage damage.
If your plant is infected, get rid of the infected fronds to prevent the infection from spreading. Using a mild fungicide spray is recommended.
Do not let the fronds stay moist for too long and also maintain spacing between plants.
Tips for Growing Elkhorn Fern
- Frost is a common issue in cold regions, and this beautiful fern should be protected from frost damage.
- Do not place this fern near a heating duct or the fireplace, as it will dry out more often.
- It loves to grow in a lightly shaded location where it receives bright sunlight every now and then.
- Similar to frost, this plant also needs protection from winds.
- In warm climates, grow this plant outdoors to enjoy the view in your garden.
- Most gardeners easily overwater their ferns because they do not pay attention to the relation of light and heat to watering. Less light and temperature mean your fern requires less water.
- Although overwatering is more dangerous, underwatering can also impact the appearance of your plant. Wilted or brown tips are a major sign of under-watering.
- If the outdoor temperature at night drops below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius), bring your fern inside.
- In forests, this fern grows on trees, so growing in a pot with soil does not suit its nature.
Other Popular Fern Varieties
This one has greyish fronds and reaches a maximum size between 12-24 inches.
It’s native to Queensland. The fronds have tiny white hairs on them, and the tips are very thin.
The fronds on this resemble the antlers of a male moose, thus giving it the name. It’s also known as Platycerium Superbum.
Triangle Staghorn Fern
Otherwise known as Platycerium Stemaria, has y shaped triangular fronds that trail.
Frequently Asked Questions about Elkhorn Fern Care
How to differentiate between Elkhorn and Staghorn Fern?
Staghorn has antler-shaped large, slender leaves. The Staghorn is made of a single eye or plant, whereas the Elkhorn has multiple eyes.
How best can you grow an Elkhorn Fern plant?
This plant requires a host to grow, but the host will not provide any nutrition or water. I would suggest growing it in a hanging basket attached to the host or a mounting board. This ensures you can feed and water the Elkhorn whenever needed.
Can you use wire basket to grow the Elkhorn Fern?
You can definitely grow the Elkhorn in a wire basket with a sphagnum fern mixture. Just make sure you submerge the root ball in water two times per week so that the moss stays moist.
Some of the fronds on my Elkhorn Fern have turned brown near the base, what should I do?
This is a symptom of over-watering. I would recommend reducing the watering to once a month to help the fern recover from water damage. If this does not help, prune the brown or black fronds to make room for new growth.
Is this plant toxic for cats or dogs?
This plant will be a good pick if you have pets in your house, as it’s non-toxic to cats and dogs.
Elkhorn Ferns can attach to any growing medium, whether it’s a tree or a wooden board. This fern variety adds a tropical vibe with the cascading leaves.
If you give it the right care and environment, it will look like a piece of art and grows really big. It’s also pet-friendly.
If you loved this plant, you could try another close relative of this plant; the Staghorn Fern.
Marcel runs the place around here. He has a deep passion for houseplants & gardening and is constantly on the lookout for yet another special plant to add to his arsenal of houseplants, succulents & cacti.
Marcel is also the founder of Iseli International Commerce, a sole proprietorship company that publishes a variety of websites and online magazines.