Mountain Island man cares for 40-year-old fern

by Alan Hodge

Stan Davis stands next to his massive staghorn fern. Alan Hodge/MIM photo

There’s huge green monster chained in Stan Davis’ front yard at 9911 Harwood Lane in the Mountain Island area.

Actually, the green monster is a staghorn fern about the size of a refrigerator. The plant is at least five feet in diameter and four feet tall. It’s heavy too.

“I guess it weighs a couple hundred pounds,” Davis said.

He estimates it’s about 40 years old. Staghorn ferns have been known to live twice that long.
“When my mother got it 35 or 40 years ago the fern was about the size of a baseball,” Davis said. “It hung over her sink. Later, she moved it to her beauty shop in Matthews.”

Davis acquired the fern in 1999 and it hasn’t stopped growing. He isn’t sure exactly how large the fern will get, but it doesn’t look like slowing down any time soon.

“There is new growth all over it,” Davis said. “The new leaves start off looking like lily pads.”

Right now, the colossal fern is hanging by logging chains from a stout oak tree in his front yard.
A member of the platycerium genus, staghorn ferns are similar to Spanish moss in that they attach themselves to another object, such as a tree, and take moisture and nutrients directly from the air. Staghorn ferns are native to tropical regions including continental Africa, Madagascar, and southeast Asia.

Being native to hot climates, a staghorn fern can’t survive in the outdoors during cold weather. Davis has solved this problem by moving the plant into an outbuilding each autumn.

“I keep industrial lights on it so it won’t freeze,” Davis said. “My power bill jumps from one hundred to two hundred fifty dollars a month.”

The logistics of moving the behemoth indoor for the winter sounds like the method used by the ancient Egyptians to move the pyramid stones.

“To get it out of the tree, I lower it into the bed of my pickup truck.” Davis said. “Then I have to move it on rollers to get it into the building,”

Davis doesn’t want to keep the experience of seeing the humongous staghorn fern all to himself, but it is a look and don’t touch deal.

“Garden clubs or anyone else who wants to come up in the yard is welcome to look at it,” Davis said. “But please don’t break any shoots off.”

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