Elkhorn fern

The Elkhorn fern is a fabulous hanging basket plant, but it can also be cultivated as an epiphyte standard. If you’re looking for an exotic feature for your home, the elkhorn fern is perfect for you.

Carolin Lenzser Carolin Lenzser
Jan 18, 2021 08:15 pm
readtime icon 6 Minutes
Growth type
  • Fern
Growth height (from)
from 50 cm to 100 cm
Growth characteristics
  • sweeping
  • overhanging
Leaf color
  • green
page format
  • duster
Sheet properties
  • evergreen
  • scattered light to semi-shade
Soil Moisture
  • fresh
ph value
  • weakly acidic
Lime compatibility
  • sensitive to lime
Nutrient requirements
  • moderately nutritious
  • low humus
Decorative or utility value
  • Leaf ornaments
  • Interior greening
  • Planters
  • Winter garden
  • Warm House
Garden style
  • Pot garden

The Elkhorn fern (Platycerium bifurcatum) belongs to the Polypodiaceae family. It originates from the tropical rainforests of South East Asia and Australia. There, it can be found in the branch forks of larger trees. Of the 17 known species of Elkhorn ferns, only Platycerium bifurcatum has generally spread as a houseplant.


The unusual grows in an overhanging arch and is therefore perfect as a hanging basket plant. It is an epiphyte; these plants do not root in the soil but on other plants. However, the Elkhorn fern only uses trees for its living environment, it does not damage them as it does not derive any minerals from the tree. This way of life ensures the plant more favorable lighting conditions than would be found on the soil. Conversely, it only works in extremely humid places with lots of precipitation, as the water uptake through the trunk is considerably more difficult than through roots in the soil. The Elkhorn fern does not form flowers.

Elkhorn fern
The Elkhorn fern’s name is derived from its appearance: its fronds are conspicuously antler shaped

Platycerium bifurcatum foliage is basal and has a gray-green color. It reaches lengths of 16 to 35 inches and has spores on the underside through which the Elkhorn fern can also propagate. The plant is evergreen and has a felt-like covering which protects it from drying out. The leaves grow on all sides and branch into one another like antlers with increasing age. In addition to these striking, leathery fronds, the plant also forms basal fronds which turn brown over time. They are sterile and are used by the plant to absorb water and nutrients. Over time they roll over one another and then die off.


The Elkhorn fern is a really special, exotic houseplant, although it does need certain location and care requirements in order to thrive. The plant prefers a light to semi-shady location, it does not tolerate either direct sunlight or very dark room areas. Temperatures around 68 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer are ideal, the thermometer should not drop below 61 degrees Fahrenheit, even in the winter. As in its natural location, the fern also prefers high levels of humidity.


The perfect substrate for Platycerium bifurcatum is a mixture of coarse leaf mold, peat and coarse pieces of bark. The pH value should be around 5, this can be checked very easily using a test strip from a trade specialist. In general, the plant is happy on similar soils to Orchids, which is why a special Orchid substrate can also be used.


The Elkhorn fern root ball should not be allowed to dry out. In large specimens, watering can sometimes be difficult due to the basal fronds. In this case, it is best to water between the old, already dead basal fronds. Instead of watering, the plant can alternatively be submerged into soft, luke warm water once a week, until the root ball is soaked well through. The best way to assess whether the substrate is supplied with sufficient moisture is through the weight of the plant. However, equally important as the moisture content of the root ball is sufficient humidity, of around 50 to 60 per cent in the room, although you should not spray the plant.


The Elkhorn should be fertilized every three to four weeks between April and August to ensure it has the ideal supply of nutrients. For this, simply slightly enrich the immersion bath used to supply the plant with moisture with a commercial green plant fertilizer. Young plants can be fertilized a little more frequently than older specimens.


Platycerium bifurcatum should be re-potted around every two years, the ideal time for this is in the spring. Young plants require more frequent re-potting, as Elkhorn ferns grow faster during the early years.

Hanging basket with Elkhorn fern
The overhanging growth of the Elkhorn fern looks fabulous in a hanging basket

The dead basal fronds should be left on the plant and not removed as they are an important humus provider for the Elkhorn fern.

Further care

The special growth characteristics of the plant can lead to the basal fronds covering the entire pot and the Elkhorn fern developing on one side. This is what makes cultivation on an epiphyte trunk a recommended alternative to cultivation in a pot.


There are two options for propagating the Elkhorn fern: The side shoots which form on the basal fronds of the mother plant from adventitious buds can simply be cut off and planted separately. Alternatively, it is also possible to sow the spores, however this method is a much more protracted process the first method mentioned.

Diseases and Pests

The Elkhorn fern develops brown colored frond tips when it is suffering from dryness or a draft. Scaly insects may also occur, they can be extremely persistent, as they are resistant to many plant protection agents, while the plant does not tolerate all insecticides. If you are unsure, test the tolerance and efficacy of the treatment on an individual frond first. Alternatively, you could also try to carefully scrape off the scaly insects with a knife.