What are staghorn fern pups? How to propagate correctly.

Staghorn ferns are a great plant to have, for a few reasons. For starters, they will give you year-round greenery and can provide six to eight weeks of each season’s foliage. They’re also easy to propagate from spores or by taking cuttings in spring and summer. The problem is the lack of information out there about how the staghorn fern pups are harvested and what’s wrong with them when they aren’t rooted correctly.

It’s pretty easy to take cuttings from staghorn ferns, but if the root is not correctly shaped or angled, it won’t work. This is a common problem for novices and their first attempt at rooting from a piece of staghorn fern.

staghorn fern pups

What are staghorn fern pups?

Staghorn ferns can reproduce and spread without any help from humans, but producing new plants is one way to ensure you have plenty of staghorns in your collection. This article gives tips on growing and caring for staghorn ferns.

Staghorn fern pups are brown, tan or black balls of fuzz that form on the leafy side of older leaves of a staghorn fern (Platycerium spp.). The center of the fuzzy mass is almost always white.

The pup is a small, new fern that will grow into an adult fern. Pups are formed from spores or from a short stem that grows on the leafy side of an adult staghorn fern. Several pups may form on one staghorn leaf, while others may be found growing from the leaf where it meets the trunk of the plant.

When pups are first formed, they are soft and pliable, but they soon harden and stiffen as they grow. Soon, they are brownish or almost black on top, tan underneath. Eventually, the pups become more brown as they age and become harder to distinguish from a mature fern.

How to propagate staghorn fern pups?

The best time to take staghorn fern pups is in spring as new growth begins. For propagation using free-rooting cuttings, harvest the pups when they are about 4 inches tall and the lower leaves have fallen off.

For propagation from spores or from a short cutting, cut off the leaf base without breaking the staghorn fern. Try pinching the top of the cutting to make it more compact, and cut off a piece about 1 inch long. Bury the cutting in warm, moist soil in a dark place where it will maintain its moisture and temperature. Wait for growth before taking it out of the soil to root it.

To propagate staghorn fern pups by sticking them into the center of a piece of live-planted fern, wait until the following spring when pliable pup leaves have formed on live-planted staghorn ferns. Make sure to remove all dead or loosened leaves before planting. Slice off a section of the base of the staghorn fern, leaving about an inch to three inches above the soil line. Touch the end of a soft, pliable pup to the exposed cut. To ensure the two pieces unite, you may need to wrap duct tape around the joint for up to two weeks after planting.

How to identify true staghorn fern pups?

True staghorn fern pups are found on mature plants and will have already formed into little fern plants. The only part of the pup that is white is the center ball of white fuzz, which will eventually turn brown as it matures. The mature fern is green on top and tan underneath.

The center of your plant, or where the foot meets the trunk, is a popular place for pups to start forming on staghorn ferns. Pups may also form on branch tips. As soon as they are noticed, gently remove them from the plant to plant in soil for propagation using free-rooting cuttings.

How do you divide staghorn ferns?

Considered the king of house plants, the staghorn fern is one of the easiest to grow. Adding a staghorn fern to your decorating or gardening plans can be an exciting experience. Staghorn ferns commonly live for decades and can get quite large while adding a tropical feel to any space. Smaller varieties may still reach almost 100 years old and grow an impressive 4 feet wide and tall, often starting as cuttings from older plants.

They are hardy enough to live outdoors in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 and 10, and they make great indoor plants as well. With a little TLC, you can have one of these beautiful plants for years to come.

How to care for you propagated staghorn fern?

After the propagation, the staghorn fern replicates and grows normally. The simple care for you new staghorn fern will be:

1. Water when the soil is dry

It is super important that you never let the soil of your staghorn fern get dry. Try to not over water, but water when the soil feels dry. It is natural that you might have to water more than usual in the winter because of the lower temperatures, but try not to. Watering less is better than over watering. But don’t be afraid to water a little more (but not too much) if it is badly needed! Remember; don’t overwater!

2. Remove dead leaves and old fronds

Staghorn ferns are kind of like little movies: they continuously grow new fronds on the top and old fronds die on the bottom. Every four months or so, check to see if your staghorn fern needs those dead leaves removed. Some people neglect this important step and their staghorn fern will rot because of it. Remove any dead leaves (around the base of the plant) so that only nice looking leaves are there to absorb sunlight for photosynthesis.

3. Check for insect infestation

In order to help the plant grow faster, some people let their staghorn fern insects infest it. This is not a good idea! Staghorn ferns are very sensitive to be attacked by pests. They will cause damage and your plant will decline. If you do see any ants boring on your staghorn fern, get rid of them right away. Ants will bite through the fronds and cause damages on the plant. If you see slugs or snails on your staghorn fern, kill them by pouring boiling water on them (or use a slug bait).

4. Fertilise at the appropriate time

Around every 3 months, fertilise your staghorn fern. Some people think that fertilising a staghorn fern is bad because it will cause the plant to grow too much and hurt the plant. This is not true! Staghorn ferns are weak plants so they need extra nutrients to grow fast. Fertilising your staghorn fern will not only cause it to grow faster, but it will also make the leaves look nice and green (which is good for photosynthesis).

How do you start a staghorn fern puppy?

Staghorn fern babies (also known as “pups”) are very easy to root. The other plants will look similar to a rhizome on a staghorn fern, so try not to get them mixed up. Rhizomes are the brown tubers that form on the bottom of a staghorn fern plant at the base of each leaf. Staghorn fern cuttings do not take from rhizomes, so don’t make that mistake.

Staghorn fern puppies have the most success when propagated in small groups instead of just one. After the cuttings have been taken from your staghorn fern, be sure to cut them off a few inches above the soil line and pot them up separately. The staghorn ferns are very easy to root and will grow very fast, so don’t leave them in their containers for too long. Weed often and keep an eye on them if you are growing more than one for best results.


This article was written to help you propagate the staghorn fern, how to find a pup, a way to tell if the pup is real. In case you get your staghorn fern from someone else and you can’t distinguish it from a pup, feel free to ask me on how can I tell if something is true or not.

Hope you found the article helpful and that you will have a wonderful time growing staghorn ferns.