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Platycerium bifurcatum (Cav.) C.Chr. 1906
pronounced: plat-ee-KER-ee-um by-fir-KAH-tum
(Polypodiaceae – the fern family)
common names: Elkhorn
This fern occurs naturally in New Guinea, and right along the east coast of Australia. It is cultivated in many countries around the world, and has become naturalized in Florida, and also in Hawaii, where it is now listed as an environmentally invasive species!
It is an epiphyte, growing on the trunks and branches of trees. Each plant is composed of a mass of plantlets. A plantlet consists of a nest leaf 12-30 cm wide, lying against the bark of the host tree. The nest leaves of neighbouring plantlets overlap one another. The nest leaves become brown and papery with age, when they become sterile and no longer produce spores.
Fertile fronds 25–90 cm long protrude from each plantlet, each frond dividing into two segments a number of times along its length. Spores are produced on the undersurface of the end segments of each frond. The spore-producing areas are tan brown in colour, and feel velvety. They are borne on the ends of the terminal strap-like lobes of the fertile fronds. This distinguishes the plant from Platycerium superbum, the Staghorn, which has the spores projecting into the sinus of the first fork.
The easiest way to propagate the Elkhorn is to remove a plantlet, or a number of plantlets together, and then tie the removed part to the desired new location. Use a large old knife or a thin flat trowel inserted beneath the membrane of a plantlet (or group of plantlets) to prize the roots away from the other plantlets. Tie to the new host with lengths of rag, or stockings.
Elkhorn may also be propagated from spores. These may be collected by placing the part of the frond that is producing the spores in a brown paper bag. Leave it there until there is brown dust (the spores) in the bag. Fill a pot with peat moss, and pour boiling water through the moss to sterilize it. Immediately put a sheet of glass or plastic over the pot to keep it sterile. Once the peat moss has cooled down, spread the spores evenly over its surface, and then immediately replace the sheet. Stand the bottom of the pot in an ice cream container with a shallow layer of water, and put the whole thing in a warm position that receives indirect sunlight. Once the spores have germinated, they will appear as a green scum over the surface of the moss. It will then take a period of some weeks, or even months, for tiny fronds to appear, and at this stage the cover should be removed. Once the new plants have grown to a decent size, they may be transferred to a tree trunk.
These ferns require a shady area in which to grow. There are not many pests that attack them, but occasionally scale bugs and mealy bugs may appear. These may be scratched off; but, if you are lucky, they may be dealt with by ladybirds.
Photographs taken 2010, 2014 Picnic Bay
Page last updated 24th January 2017