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Ferns for sale in the USA (only)
Charles Alford Plants
1645 9th St. S.W.
Vero Beach, FL 32962 USA
The back ground images were
sketched by my farther, Gert Opperman
(Written by Roy Vail)
A. The Name
The species name andinum
refers to the Andes Mountains in South America.
All my thanks to Peter
Wunderlin in Durban (South Africa ) for this image.
is a habitat image taken by Roy Vail.
Platycerium andinum, the only Platycerium in the Americas, lives as an under
story epiphyte in tropical dry forests of Peru and Bolivia at elevations from
300 m (1,000 ft) to 150 m (500 feet). It is most often found on quinilla
(pronounced key-KNEE-Ya) trees, Manilkaria bidentata (A. DC) a legume known as
bulletwood. The quinilla tree has thick furrowed bark and a dark reddish wood
prized for expensive floor tile, fence posts, telephone poles, charcoal, and
fuel for open cooking fires.
The location most often given as typical for Platycerium is Tarapoto
(pronounced tara-PO-to), San Martin, Peru, a city founded August 20, 1782, now
over 50,000 population, located in the rain-shadowed Rio Mayo Valley in the
foothills of the eastern slope of the Andes. Tarapoto's elevation is 313 m
(1030 ft.) about the maximum for Platycerium andinum. Its average rainfall is
888 mm or 35.0 inches per year. August, the driest month, averages 19 mm (.7
inches). The wettest, March, averages 209 mm (8.2inches).
Almost no forests are left around Tarapoto, but my observations of Platycerium
andinum near there show that it begins forming new shields in late December and
in some plants are still green in August. Fertile fronds form more or less any
time of the year, becoming the longest in the oldest plants. Although
Platycerium andinum may occasionally form pups above the main plant in
cultivation, in nature pups tend to form on the sides, level with the bud of the
main plant. This results in a mass of plants that eventually encircles the limb
or tree, a form I have called a ring cluster.
Since Platycerium andinum lives under the canopy, it can not take full sunlight,
but it does well in bright light. Over watering is the main cause of problems
with this species. When in doubt, treat it like Platycerium superbum, another
species native to tropical dry forests.
Start with the largest plant you can afford. Pups will form, but not freely.
Since its natural form is a giant ring-shaped cluster, no hobbyist I know owns a
specimen that looks anything like they do in Peru. Platycerium andinum becomes
a tall, slender plant with pups on the side which might as well be removed when
they get big enough. It is one of the more difficult Platycerium to raise from
In nature the top half of the shields rot away which leaves a flat, almost
shelf-like region between the newer shields and the tree. Credit for discovery
of Platycerium is given to early British naturalist Richard Spruce who lived in
Tarapoto from 1850 to 1852. His notes are available. The descriptions of their
travel are incredible. The species was described in Baker in 1891 but lost to
the hobby for over 100 years. One botanist told me, "The botanists knew where it
was," but a writer during that period even suggested that it might be
Platycerium bifurcatum escaped from cultivation. (Sorry, I don't remember the
reference) Then in 1962, Mr. Lee Moore of Miami rediscovered it near Pucallpa (pronounced
He had worked for hours getting his Volkswagen van out of the mud. Finally he
collapsed to rest flat on his back, looked up, and there in a tree was a cluster
of Platycerium andinum. He collected it, and searched the area for two days
without finding another. It has never been reported from Pucallpa again. Over
the years Lee Moore made many other importations of Platycerium andinum and is
probably responsible for nearly all plants in collections today.
One strange event was when a large group of Platycerium andinum came to Miami
with a shipment of tropical fish from Iquitos, (pronounced "E"-KEY-tos), where
it is NOT native. I was told that large piles of Platycerium andinum are often
seen in the "flower markets" in Lima Peru, but I have no photos, and did not
manage to find the right flower market. Today there are enough plants of
Platycerium andinum in the trade that it should NEVER be necessary to buy a
plant that was collected and imported.
Platycerium andinum is most closely related to Platycerium quadridichotomum from
the dry western side of Madagascar, making it another piece of biological
evidence for Africa and South America's once being united. In many ways
Platycerium andinum looks like Platycerium quadridichotomum on a giant scale.
For me it is easy to see
how Platycerium coronarium forms a ring-shaped cluster. Its rhizome branches
behind the bud, grows toward the side, and more or less automatically comes to
the surface as a new pup to the side of the original plant. By keeping this
process going, eventually the limb or tree is encircled with a ring of plants.
Platycerium andinum also forms its new pups to the side of the original plant,
but without using rhizome branching. To me that seems FAR more difficult to
explain. In other words, how does it do that? It is a neat trick, also done by
Platycerium elephantotis, Platycerium willinckii, and Platycerium
quadridichotomum. All but the last are species with large individual plants.
Since 1995 I have been instrumental in trying to save some of the forest near
Tarapoto. An account of my efforts can be found at