Brown Staghorn Fern Leaves | Causes and How to Fix it!

Last Updated: February 4, 2022

One of the most unique houseplants, the striking leaves on the Staghorn Fern deserve all the hype! However, it can happen that the leaves on your Staghorn Fern start to turn brown, either from the base upwards or as brown tips/spots across the plant. This can be pretty concerning for every plant parent if the issue starts to progress and spread across your plant. But don’t worry, we have put together this post to help you figure out what the cause of the brown leaves is and how best to treat the issue to revive your Staghorn Fern.

Brown spores

Before we get into the various causes of brown leaves on a Staghorn Fern, we want to make sure that you are able to tell the difference between your Fern’s natural brown spores, and brown leaves that signal something is wrong. Ferns produce spores as their way to reproduce and these appear as small dots on the leaves, usually on the underside. As your Staghorn Fern matures, the spores will turn from a green colour to brown. This is totally normal and is just the process of ageing. It shouldn’t be confused with the actual leaves on your Staghorn Fern turning brown. 

Spores will come away from the leaf so make sure that it is the actual leaf that has turned brown before changing anything about how you care for your plant, or where it is placed. 

Natural ageing

Similarly to brown spores on your Staghorn Fern, there is one other factor that is nothing to worry about. When your Staghorn Fern matures, the shield fronds (the plate-like leaves that protect the base of the plant) will crisp up and turn brown. This is again totally normal and is just part of the life cycle. So if these leaves have started to turn brown, you haven’t done anything wrong and there is nothing to worry about here. 

It’s important to leave these brown leaves on your plant, they will shed them if necessary but we strongly recommend leaving them on the plant.

Overwatering can turn the leaves brown

Although your Staghorn Fern doesn’t grow like a lot of other houseplants, some of the same issues apply when it comes to diagnosing brown leaves. If the roots of your Staghorn Fern are too soggy and have started to rot, then this can cause browning on the leaves. This usually occurs from the base upwards. 

Hold off either how often you water your Staghorn Fern, or how much water you give it each time and this should prevent any more brown leaves from developing on your plant.

Underwatering can also cause brown leaves

Although it won’t die on you suddenly if you forget to water it every once in a while, or make it go a little longer without water, consistent underwatering will start to have an impact on your Staghorn Fern’s health. If you notice that your Staghorn Fern’s leaves are turning brown and crisping up, it may be due to a lack of water. 

Underwatering usually means your Staghorn Fern will start to develop brown leaf tips and leaf edges, and as the problem progresses, this will progress throughout the leaf. The leaves will also look light brown in colour and feel very dry to touch. 

Your first instinct when solving the issue of underwatering might be to give it loads of water straight away but this can actually be harmful to your Staghorn Fern as they don’t like sudden and dramatic changes to their environment. Instead, you want to reintroduce frequent watering for a week or two and this should solve the problem.

If you find yourself forgetting to water your Staghorn Fern regularly, try creating a calendar of when all your houseplants need watering. You can then set reminders on your phone on specific days to remind you. That way you can keep track of your watering habits and make sure you don’t under or overwater any of them too often! Just bear in mind seasonal changes when creating your calendar as light levels and temperature can impact how often you need to water your plant.

Low humidity can cause brown leaf tips

Low humidity levels can also cause brown Staghorn Fern leaves so it’s worth paying attention to how dry the air is. Humidity issues tend to cause brown leaf tips first, but can gradually take over more of the leaf if the problem persists and the air is really dry. Staghorn Ferns like a little higher humidity than the average home so you’ll need to boost it every now and again. Here are a few ways to do that:

  1. Mist your Staghorn Fern’s leaves

    Using a spray bottle, mist your plant a few times each week or more if you can. Make sure to do it in the mid-morning though as you want to leave enough time for the water to evaporate before it gets dark as the cold air at night can cause damp leaves to rot.

  2. Wash down your Staghorn Fern

    Wash down the leaves of your Staghorn Fern in the sink or shower every week or two. This is a great quick fix but it’s a fairly short-term solution so you’ll want to be doing other things to boost the humidity as well.

  3. Invest in a humidifier

    This is the best long term solution as they can keep quite a consistent level of humidity around your plants so you don’t need to remember to mist or change out the water in the pebble tray.

    We recommend this humidifier from Amazon – our Ferns and other humidity-loving plants love it!

Direct sun can scorch the leaves

Brown leaves might also be because your Staghorn Fern is getting too much direct sunlight. Intense light can cause the leaves to burn, from which they will not be able to recover. Staghorn Ferns do like areas with bright light, but it needs to be indirect.

You need to also watch out a little more in summer when the sun is a lot stronger and is out for more of the day. To figure out how much light your Staghorn Fern is getting throughout the day, you can use a light meter. It may be that your Staghorn Fern is getting a lot of direct sunlight in the morning, or is in too much shade in the afternoon. A meter will help you track any changes.

Those are the most common causes of brown leaves on a Staghorn Fern. It’s important that you determine whether or not it is simply the natural life cycle of the plant that is causing the brown leaves, or whether there is something more harmful going on. You don’t want to be changing anything about how you water your plant, or how much light/humidity it gets if everything is actually how it should be.

Check out our Staghorn Fern care guide to learn more about how to best take care of your Fern.

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