What Are Staghorn Fern Pups?
Staghorn fern (Ficus microcarpa) are one of the most popular plants in gardens. They grow naturally throughout much of North America and Europe. They have been cultivated since ancient times and are now grown commercially as well. There are many varieties of these plants, but they all look similar, with leaves that resemble those of a small fennel plant or mint plant. Some varieties are evergreen while others require some pruning before they will die back completely.
The common name “staghorn” comes from their shape, which resembles a spearhead. These spears are actually stems called spines that grow out from the base of each leaf. When they mature, the stem grows into a cone-shaped flower head at the top of the stalk. The flowers are white with red centers and are usually surrounded by a ring of tiny seeds.
Each seed contains between 1/8 – 1/4 ounce of dried staghorn fern seeds.
These little green cones are actually called fronds because they grow from the base of the plant’s main stem. They contain only one or two hairs, but when mature they become very long and thin like a branch. Fronded plants may reach up to 3 feet tall!
The staghorn fern plant is easy to grow from spores. It is a great choice for shady areas of the garden and prefers a slightly acidic soil that is moist but well drained. They can also survive in wet conditions, but they prefer not to be water-logged. Be sure to place this fern away from paths or sidewalks where people might accidentally trample on them.
They are relatively pest free and deer resistant too!
Should I Remove Staghorn Pups?
These small plants are actually the fern’s reproductive organs. They will grow on the mother plant indefinitely, or until you or nature removes them. Since they can be either male or female, they produce spores rather than seeds. When they grow old enough, they will drop their spores onto the ground. These tiny green dots are spread by wind and animals to new locations, where they can begin new ferns.
Spores (and the ferns that grow from them) are usually green, but they can also be red, yellow, brown or purple.
Staghorn fern pups are small versions of the mature fern and can be found on either the mother plant or as separate plants nearby. They are easy to remove because they lack a true root system. Just gently pull them out of the ground if you want to transplant them elsewhere!
Staghorn ferns can also reproduce through spores. In the spring, their flower heads produce both female and male reproductive organs. The male parts produce a cloud of dust-like spores that are carried to the unfertilized flowers by the wind. The female parts produce a cloud of larger spores that are spread out in water.
These larger spores can only be spread by animals, so they only grow where animals roam!
These spores will eventually produce ferns that look like their parents. Even though these offspring may look exactly like their parents, they will not be the same plant!
Because each individual plant is a new organism, with its own distinct genome (DNA).
These baby ferns will have their own life cycle and will produce their own spores. These spores might then grow into new staghorn ferns or they might grow into new types of plants altogether! This is how nature creates biodiversity.
How to plant and grow Staghorn ferns:
Staghorn ferns are very hardy and easy to care for. They can be grown from spores or by separating the baby plants (called “pups”) that grow from the mother plant. If you wish to try growing a staghorn fern from spores, acquire some spores from your local nursery or garden center. (You can also find them online here).
Choose a location in your yard that gets partial sun (2 or 3 hours of sunlight per day). The soil should be well drained, rich and acidic. If necessary, add some organic material or charcoal to the soil to improve its quality.
Spores can be sown outdoors in the fall or in spring. If you plant them in the fall, they will germinate the following spring.
To plant from spores, create a small hole in the ground with a stick. Drop one spore into the hole and cover it with 1-2 inches of soil. Water it well.
Make several holes and lay the spores out in a row if you want them to grow into a long vine, mimicking the mother plant. Or make several clusters of several holes if you wish to get more than one fern growing.
Spores can take several weeks to germinate, so be patient!
Once they do sprout, the new ferns should be carefully protected while they are still very young and vulnerable. If a bird or bug were to eat the tiny fern, it would be destroyed and you’d have to start all over again!
If there are no predators in your area, you can just leave the new plants outside on their own and they will probably do fine.
If you have cats, dogs, or other nibbling animals that might eat the new plants, you’ll need to protect them. You can either move them inside or put them in an enclosure outside.
Once they are large enough (a few inches tall), birds and other animals will find them too tough to eat, so you can uncover them or let them free in a protected area of your yard.
If you wish to grow your plant inside, place it in a pot or a glass of water (so it won’t get root-bound). Keep it out of direct sunlight and keep the soil barely moist. Staghorn ferns do not like wet feet!
Watering them is easiest with a drip system or by placing the entire pot in a container of water for a few hours every week or two.
They are happy in basic soil (limestone or other debris will cause alkalinity). They prefer to dry out slightly between watering, but never let the plant stand in water.
Make sure you keep it out of direct sunlight and away from heaters or cold drafts.
If you wish to grow yours in multiple plants, you can either carefully separate them when they are pups, or just let them grow naturally and cut off any unwanted growths as they appear.
Spores can also be collected in early spring from the mother plant and stored for later use.
Once you get a spore or two, it’s a very simple thing to grow several ferns.
Once you have several ferns of different sizes growing in your home or garden, you can transform them into many more plants by a process known as division. This is done by separating the individual plants and cutting away some of the root mass.
Sources & references used in this article:
Air plant support device by AE Horowitz – US Patent 4,215,514, 1980 – Google Patents
Structural investigations of asexual reproduction in Nephrolepis exaltata and Platycerium bifurcatum by JH Richards, JZ Beck, AM Hirsch – American journal of botany, 1983 – Wiley Online Library
Platycerium update by BJ Hoshizaki, MG Price – American fern journal, 1990 – JSTOR