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Tropical North Queensland, Australia.
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Staghorn Fern

Staghorn Fern

Staghorn Fern: Platycerium superbum

  • This fern is found in Queensland, northern New South Wales and Malaysia.
  • Young plants develop deeply lobed sterile leaves which are the nest leaves that stand out from the host tree and catch falling leaves from above. The rhizome is hardly branched at all.
  • Nest leaves are green and very hairy when young. They press tightly against a host to cover the root system and eventually a small antler is produced.
  • With maturity the true leaves of the fern become pendulous, thin, narrow, often twisted and forked from less than half way down the leaf stem.
  • Have large antler-like fronds that produce fertile spores and are found on older plants. The sporangia are born in a large mass at the base of the first fork, and become brown and fluffy when mature.
  • The dust fine spores of these massive epiphytes float through the canopy and colonise trees with rough bark.
  • True fronds at their peak maturity may dangle at a length of two metres.
  • The Staghorn entirely lacks the ability to produce plantlets, and the single plant simply gets larger each season.
  • The fertile area of the fern is located at the first fork of the true frond.
  • Grows on both trees and rocks, generally in rainforests.
  • The Staghorn Fern is similar to a fern that grows in the Philippines, but has 2 spore patches on each fertile frond.
  • Its distinguishing features include its evergreen nest leaves, absence of plantlets, and single fertile area at the first fork of true fronds.
  • It is a very popular fern that is poached to procure prized specimens.
  • It is very easily grown in the open as far south as Melbourne. In cold areas, it is best kept completely dry during winter, and is very subject to rotting while young.
  • The Staghorn Fern is very common in cultivation, and is regarded as one of the world’s most spectacular ferns.

Additional Information:

'Staghorn Fern'

Platycerium superbum

  • There is usually one large salad looking base leaf.

  • The photosynthetic fronds tend to start thin, then widen into a 'hand' split into many fingers.

Platycerium spp.

  • This is a group of about 15 species (Warren 1999) found in rainforests throughout the tropics, where they grow on trees.

  • They develop with two sets of leaves; the first set are sterile and hold in debris to support the plant, while the other leaves are photosynthetic and release the spore.

  • All species in this genus look similar, with the green leaves growing out and splitting, thus looking like the antlers that develop on male deer, and giving them the common names.

  • Some, like some African species, do not split much at all, while others, split a lot. They can hang down from their host trees quite a distance.  

  • Some species are commonly called 'Elkhorns' although there doesn't seem to be any consistency in naming, and therefore there is no biological distinction or significance between the names 'staghorn' and 'elkhorn'. And in fact, in the case of two Australian species they have actually been named opposite to what they should be! That is, the so called 'elkhorn fern' has bifurcating leaves more like a regular deer stag, while the common staghorn fern has a larger base and 'fingers' much more like an elk antler. Thus it is probably best just to call them all 'staghorn ferns'.

Script: Courtesy of  Damon Ramsey BSc.(Zool) Biologist Guide

Additional Staghorn Fern Photos

Chambers Wildlife Rainforest Lodges
Lake Eacham, Atherton Tablelands
Tropical North Queensland, Australia.
PH & Fax: 07 4095 3754 International: 61 7 4095 3754

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