You are visitor number Last update on 04/07/2006
Ferns for sale in the USA (only) Charles Alford Plants
1645 9th St. S.W.
(Written by Roy Vail)
Before publishing "Platycerium Hobbyist's Handbook" I came to the conclusion that the plant being sold as Platycerium vassei should be called Platycerium alcicorne. During the many years since the book came out botanists have continued to agree this is true, but hobbyists have been slow to change their labels.
The word "alcicorne" means elk or moose antler. This species looks as much like the common name "staghorn fern" as any of the Platycerium.
Platycerium alcicorne is native to eastern Madagascar, some other islands, and parts of the east coast of Africa. Localities in print are, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Mocambique, and Grande Comore. It is said that they are locally abundant in several types of humid forests, and in plantations, at elevations from 0 to 600 meters. (sea level to 2,000 feet)
The Madagascar form of Platycerium alcicorne is darker green, and less waxy than the mainland Africa form. It also has obvious black dots, which are stellate (star-shaped) hairs, on the shields. The mainland Africa form tends to be obviously yellowish green and waxy. It is the form most often called Platycerium vassei. Both have upright fertile fronds about 30 cm (12 inches) in length when grown in bright light. In less light the fertile fronds grow longer and may twist or bend at the base causing them to droop down. For the most natural looking specimens high light is recommended. The upper edges of the shields of Platycerium alcicorne grow back across the top of the root mass, causing the cluster to be closed when viewed from above. To me this is an indication that the species is native to forests where rain is abundant and it is unnecessary for the clusters to collect and conserve water. For the hobbyist this means Platycerium alcicorne requires more water than some other species, and that, if a watering system with splitters is used, the splitter may need to be poked up in under the shields from above to be sure water is getting to the roots.
Although there are some differences in the requirements of the two forms, they are slight. The Madagascar form tends to be less tolerant of drying and produces pups more slowly than the African mainland form. I have seen the mainland form in nearly full sun in Miami, though it seemed a little stressed. I doubt if the Madagascar form would have survived there.
The range of Platycerium alcicorne indicates that it should
Since this plant definitely has two forms, one from mainland Africa, and the other from Madagascar, a possible solution to the name problem would be to arbitrarily assign the name Platycerium vassei to one form, and Platycerium alcicorne to the other. No botanist I know will do this.