An Easy Way to Mount a Staghorn Fern

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I have three staghorn ferns (Platycerium bifurcatum). One is in a hanging pot which is it slowly engulfing, the other is younger plant: a kokedama I made last fall. And now I’ve just added a third staghorn that I mounted onto a wooden plaque. And it was incredibly easy to do!

Staghorn Fern

Wild staghorn fern growing on a tree trunk in Australia. D. Gordon E. Robertson, Wikimedia Commons

Platycerium bifurcatum is the most commonly grown of 18 species of staghorn fern, all from the Old World tropics with the exception one species, P. andinum, from South America. All grow as epiphytes, that is on tree trunks or branches, in the wild. Far more drought- and sun-tolerant than most ferns, they have two sorts of fronds. Shield-shaped sterile fronds form at the base of the plant and wrap about the rhizomes, protecting them from desiccation and collecting dead leaves to “feed” the fern. They soon die and turn brown, but remain useful to the plant even after their death. The fertile fronds are longer-lived, remaining green for years. They arch out from the basal ones, branching like the antlers of a stag. Eventually, they may produce spores on their surface.

Staghorns are low maintenance plants, tolerant of neglect, and well adapted to household conditions as long as they receive good light … or at least, P. bifurcatum is. Some species’ need for high air humidity makes them more difficult to grow.

Mounting a staghorn fern onto a plaque or piece of bark is something I’ve long dreamed of trying, but it just seemed so complicated. It would involve unpotting a staghorn fern and using cord or wire to fix it to the plaque until it starts to cling to it on its own. But then, how to water it? It would really need to be soaked, but then I’d have to find a pail large enough to fit the plant, plaque and all, into. It’s complicated enough that I’ve thought about trying for over 20 years and never did get around to it.

Until this fall.

At a local home show, I saw an easier method, developed by Julie Bussières of Vert metal, a specialist in stainless steel green walls and other metal gardening structures. She’s developed an easy way to mount staghorns. And I gave it a try.

The How-To

Vert metal kit with moss, plaque and support. I bought the fern separately. Photo: laidbackgardener.blog

You have to purchase a kit (cost: about $40) which includes a wooden plaque (made of pine) 10 in x 12 in (25 cm x 30 cm) in diameter bearing two stainless steel anchor screws and a star-shaped support, also in stainless steel, plus sphagnum moss. There are two holes in the support so you can hook it over the anchor screws. And you can hang the plaque on the wall the way you would hang a picture. 

An alternative is to buy the support separately ($20), plus sphagnum and two screws, then make your own plaque from a plank or piece of bark.

Staghorn fern on the support, held by the arms bent upwards. Photo: www.vertmetal.com

The idea is to buy a staghorn fern in a 4- or 5-inch (10- or 15-cm) pot (you could use a larger plant, but you’d have to reduce its rootball’s size somewhat), then unpot it and wrap the rootball in sphagnum moss. Center the rootball on the stainless steel support and bend each of the arms upwards (easy to do by hand), pressing so they hold the rootball solidly in place. Give the support a good soak, let it drain, then insert it onto the plaque, hooking the two holes onto the anchor screws. Then onto the wall it goes! 

To water, remove the plant from the support, soak, then clip it back on the plaque over the anchor screws. Photo: www.vertmetal.com

About every week or two, I remove the plant from the plaque and simply soak its base in a tray of water, then I hook it back up on the plaque. It couldn’t be simpler!

Eventually, the basal fronds will entirely hide the metal support from view.

Other Plants

Hoya grown using the Vert metal plaque system. Photo: www.vertmetal.com

Of course, Vert Metal’s method of fixing plants to a plaque using a removable support and thus allowing easy watering can be applied to other houseplants. Other epiphytic plants, like orchids, are an obvious choice. Hoyas, mistletoe cactus, holiday cactus, bromeliads, bird’s-nest ferns and anthuriums would all be good choices. And I can imagine you could easily adapt most succulents to growing on this type of plaque. 

In tropical countries, all the above plants could be grown outdoors year-round. You could easily fix the plaque to a wall or tree trunk and water it with a hose!

Where to Find a Kit?

The supplier, Vert Metal, is located in Canada, near Quebec City where I live. For the moment, it ships only within Canada and the US, although I’m sure Julie would be interested in growing her market to other countries over time. You can contact Vert Metal at www.vertmetal.com with questions or to order.

I’m very pleased with my “easy staghorn mounting system” and I hope you enjoy yours as well!

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