For many years, I have been an admirer of these beautiful antler-like staghorn ferns. Staghorn ferns are epiphytes, which mean that they grow by anchoring onto another plant or structure for support. Many orchids and other tropical plants fall into this same category of plants that grow in the organic matter that may collect on or around an object or plant.
Staghorn ferns are found naturally growing on tree trunks, branches, or stones. These ferns typically produce two types of fronds or leaves. The first type, known as basal fronds, grows in layers around the base of the plant. They are round and thick and usually turn a brownish color. They may look dead, but don’t pull them off. These help anchor and protect the plant. The second type are foliar fronds, which are the long green leaves that emerge from the center of the plant. These form the distinctive antler look.
I am definitely the type of plant nerd that gravitates towards the weird and strange. From Giant Sequoias to carnivorous plants, I have experimented with all kinds of fun plants. Growing these at a nursery I worked at for many years helped me delay the inevitable addition to my collection, a beautiful staghorn fern. This past Christmas, our office was given a holiday gift from a wonderful arborist that we work with. He created these really cool terrarium staghorn fern plantings, and we each got to take one home.
As cool as they were, my staghorn fern terrarium slowly declined over the year and really wasn’t happy with its situation. The container kept the staghorn too wet and the size kept us from putting it in the sunnier spots in the house. It was obviously time for a change. The staghorn needed a new home. Mounting was the answer.Here is how we did it:
Mounting a Staghorn Fern
Supplies:1 – 5-1/2” x 6’ Cedar Fence Picket 1 – Picture frame Picture hanging set (or 2 screw eyes and picture wire) 1-3/4” wood screws Tack nails Fishing line Potting mix
Sheet moss or sphagnum moss
Start by assembling the frame. We found a great deal on a picture frame at a local thrift store and picked it up for a couple of bucks. I sanded off the finish with plans to paint the frame, but once the finish was off, I realized that the wood underneath had a great look. Naturally, we decided to go all natural. So instead of painting, I just wiped down the frame and applied mineral oil to help seal the wood.
To construct the back, measure the size of the interior of your picture frame. You want the back to overlap the edge at least an inch on 2-4 inches depending on the width of the picture frame. I cut three pieces of the cedar fence board to this length. Next, I cut a smaller piece about 8-9 inches in length just long enough to overlap all three fence boards. Then cut the smaller piece in half length-wise, making a brace for each side.
Once all of the pieces were cut, I gave them a little sanding to knock off any larger splinters and smooth sharp corners. Then attached the two smaller pieces to the 3 larger pieces. You will have to drill pilot holes for the screws because the fence boards split very easily. Put one 1-1/2” screw in each board and screw it in until it just begins to exit the boards. Repeat this on the each side. Then, attach the picture hanger wire and anchors to the back of the boards.
Flip the board over. Use the picture frame to lightly trace an outline of the interior of the frame onto the boards. Start to hammer in the tack nails around the perimeter of the boards. I spaced them a couple of inches and tried to locate them halfway between the traced line and the edge of the board. Leave the nails out about ¼ ” to give you enough nail to tie onto.
Make a small mound of potting soil on the boards, and create a little crater in the middle. Take the staghorn fern and place it in this crater, gently spreading the roots just slightly.
Spread soil up over the sides covering staghorn roots while taking care to not damage the basal fronds (the brown leaves). After that, start layering the sphagnum moss over the soil and boards staying within the traced outline. You want at least 3/4” or so of moss covering these areas. It packs down pretty easy once you secure it.
After everything is covered, start tying the fishing line onto the tack nails. Tie one end onto a nail. Then, wrap the line around two other nails creating a triangle. You want the line close to the base of the staghorn fern but not close enough that it might cut into the fern or its roots. Pull the line tight, cut it, and tie the opposite end to a nail. Repeat this until the strings are tied to all of the nails and the staghorn fern is secured to the board. (I followed this helpful knot tutorial to get my first knot secured.)
Tap in the tack nails far enough to secure the fishing line. The nails will still stick out a tiny bit. Set the staghorn frame upright. Grab the picture frame and line it back up with the traced outline on the boards. Use clamps to temporarily attach the picture frame to the board and staghorn. Drill the wood screws into the back of the boards the remainder of the way to attach it to the back of the picture frame. Check to make sure that the screws are securely in the picture frame. If they are not, back the screws out, readjust the clamps and screw them back in tighter.
Staghorn ferns like indirect bright light. They are not cold-hardy, so keep them inside during the colder months. They should be watered every week or as the soil feels dry. To water the mounted staghorn fern, place it in the sink or tub and lightly pour water over the moss while avoiding splashing any water on the leaves. Let any excess water drain off before you hang the fern back on the wall.
Now we have our own ‘vegan antlers’. Check back in and maybe our baby four point staghorn will soon be a twenty pointer.