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Growing on Polyester

I grow staghorn ferns on mounts made of synthetic materials. This makes for a permanent mount. The nature of the polyester felt used in these mounts is very appealing to the roots of the staghorns. They grow all through the mount so that the mount is the medium.

Growing on synthetic fabric has several effects worth mentioning. One is that these mounts are free draining. In the upright mounted position, water will run out the bottom until surface tension takes over. These mounts may drain for quite a while. The fabric is very porous on a micro scale, so it can hold a lot of water. Which suits the needs of the staghorn. Like in nature, but better.

Staghorns are epiphytes - meaning they find a place to live up in the crotch of a tree. Living up in a tree a staghorn must try to catch the rain and hopefully hang on to some of it in a wad of leaves and litter. It uses it's basal fronds to wrap up that precious root space and conserve the moisture it holds. That is all the moisture it will have until the next rain. Each year it may have to survive through seasonal dry periods.

The typical way of mounting P. bifurcatum...

The typical way of mounting P. bifurcatum is to tie it to a wooden backing of some sort with sphagnum moss stuffed in between. This is a perfectly acceptable way of growing staghorns and many beautiful staghorns are grown this way. However, a common outcome of this mounting style is that eventually the sphagnum rots and, after a while, there is nothing solid left to hold the plant. It gets loose or falls off. Then it is time to replant.

The synthetic fibre mounts I make are intended to be permanent. The mount is the medium. The fine roots of the staghorn spread vigorously throughout the polyester fabric, even into dense poly fibre boards. These materials will not rot. To make the synthetic fibre matrix even more hospitable I enclose a sprinkling of moisture crystals and charcoal. The idea is to give the plant good reason to keep living roots deeply embedded in the mount. To be clear, there is little media, of the traditional sort. Just a bit around the roots from the original planting. The staghorn is growing almost entirely on a synthetic fibre matrix.


The polyester materials are quite easy to work with and versatile, allowing for freedom of design. Ideally my staghorn mounts respond both to the health of the plant and its visual appeal. The materials I use are primarily various grades and densities of polyester felt. I assemble the mounts using hot glue. This makes a strong bond with the polyester.

Between the layers of synthetic fabric I include a sprinkling of moisture gel crystals and some natural hardwood charcoal. The moisture gel can retain a large amount of water and dole it out slowly as the plant needs it. The charcoal neutralizes ammonia and helps keep the roots happy.

Maintaining staghorns grown this way is pretty straightforward. I give them a full-immersion soaking about once a week or whenever they seem dry. When these plants are mature with basal fronds covering the mount it may be hard to tell when the plant is dry. The best way I have found is the "heft' test. Pick up the plant. If it feels light it might be time to give it a soak. Fortunately P. bifurcatum is quite tolerant of minor watering lapses. ( I note again that most other species of Platycerium will not tolerate this type of abuse. P. bifurcatum is quite forgiving which is why it works in my growing conditions.)

When properly mounted the basal fronds will tend to form a kind of funnel with the opening toward the top of the mount. This fits with the needs of the plant growing in nature: moisture (rain, mist) and nutrients (dust, bird poo, etc.) fall from above. Being an epiphyte what falls in from above is everything. There is no other source of water and nutrients. It is good to bear this in mind when watering your staghorn. When the mount is fully wrapped by the basal frond it may be challenging to get water into the center of the plant's root mass. This is why I prefer to soak the plant.

When the staghorns are outdoors for the summer there is a temptation to water them with the hose. But because of the way the basal fronds enclose the mount, even extended spraying may leave the center of the plant completely dry. You may direct water in from the top. But the best way to assure it is fully watered is to soak it. Soaking also allows for the moisture crystals to fill up. A little soluble fertilizer added to the soak water will encourge the plants. But they are accustomed to thin rations, being epiphytes, so don't overdo it. I fertilize in the spring and summer when the plants are actively growing. Not so much in fall and winter, when they slow down.