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By Louwrens Opperman & Roy Vail

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Cyathea dregei





Growing ferns from spore the easy way.

Keith's Fern Page


Ferns for sale in the USA  (only) Charles Alford Plants  

1645 9th St. S.W.
Vero Beach, FL  32962 USA Contact Charles 


The back ground images were sketched by my farther, Gert Opperman


Platycerium andinum

(Written by Roy Vail)

(Pronounced: an-DEE-num)

A. The Name

The species name andinum refers to the Andes Mountains in South America.


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All my thanks to Peter Wunderlin in Durban (South Africa ) for this image. 

This is a habitat image taken by Roy Vail.

B.  Biology
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 spore,

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  poo-CAL-pa).  
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




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