Connect heavy-duty chains in a basket shape for hanging heavy staghorn ferns.

How to Make a Staghorn Fern Hanger

by Amelia Allonsy

Staghorn fern (Platycerium bifurcatum), a semi-tropical or tropical plant hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 through 12, grows long, forked fronds that resemble antlers. Small pups are frequently mounted on wood plaques, not just for the novelty of looking like deer antlers, but because staghorn ferns are epiphytes or air plants that naturally grow in trees. Staghorns can grow up to about 300 pounds, which is impractical for wall-mounting. Instead, you can hang them in a tree from a basket. You'll have to make your own basket hanger from heavy-duty chain to support the weight.

Measure the height and width of the staghorn fern, including only the large mass of woody material from which new pups emerge. Exclude the height and width of fern fronds from your measurements. Measure the circumference around the top of the woody mass. Staghorn ferns can grow to 5 feet across and 5 feet high or larger.

Cut a length of heavy-duty galvanized chain, such as 1/4-inch diameter chain, that equals the circumference measurement for the top of the staghorn's woody mass, plus about three extra chain links. Use bolt cutters to cut through a chain link, separating the desired length from the rest of the chain. The 1/4-inch measurement refers to the thickness of gauge of the metal that is bent into links, not the measurement across the finished link.

Lay the piece of chain on a flat work surface and form a circle so the two ends meet. Join the two ends with a 1/4-inch chain connector, which looks just like the rest of the links, but it has a nut that you can turn to open the link, fit it over the two chain link ends, and twist to close the connector.

Cut four lengths of chain that are long enough to equal the height of the fern mass when you swag the chains from the top of the fern, around the bottom and back up to the top. To determine the length needed, mark the radius of the fern mass on your work surface. If the fern measures 3 feet across, make two marks spaced 3 feet apart on your work station. Make a mark for the height of the fern centered below the width measurement. Place the end of the chain on one of the end marks, swag it so it touches the height mark, and bring the chain up to the second width mark. Measure the length or count the links; add a few extra links to each of the four chain lengths.

Attach the four chain lengths to the chain circle so that two chains make a plus-sign (+) pattern inside the circle and the other two make an X-pattern. If you're standing above the chain circle and looking down, one chain should attach vertically from top to bottom, while a second chain runs horizontally across the center from right to left to form a "+" inside the circle. The remaining two chains should run diagonally across the circle to form an "X," with all four chains crossing at the center of the circle. In the end, the circle should be divided into eighths, like a cut pie. Use chain connectors to attach the ends of these four chain lengths to the chain links in the chain circle. When the fern hangs in the tree, the chain circle acts like the top rim of a basket, while the four swagged chains form the basket itself that prevents the fern from falling through to the ground.

Insert a long bolt through the links where each of the four chains meet at the bottom, center of the chain basket. It helps to have a few people hold the chain circle off the ground so you can see the point where the four chains naturally fall and meet. Slide a washer over the end of the bolt -- the washer must be larger than the chain link -- and thread a nut onto the bottom of the bolt to hold it in place. While this doesn't completely stabilize the four chains, it does hold them in a relatively fixed position so that each chain isn't able to swing 180 degrees and possibly drop the fern.

Measure from the top of the tree branch where you wish to hang the fern down to the level at which you want to hang it. If you measure to where you want the bottom of the fern to hang, subtract the fern height from your measurement. Cut two lengths of chain that are twice the length of this measurement, plus about 6 inches. Select a strong tree branch that is capable of supporting the staghorn fern's weight. You can't expect a 1-inch diameter branch to support the weight of a 300-pound fern.

Push each hanging chain through a piece of garden hose to prevent the chain from digging into the branch. The garden hose sections should be long enough that no part of the chains touch the branch.

Throw the two hanging chains over the branch with the garden hose section touching the wood. The space between the two chains should be equal to the width of the chain basket. Hang two chain connectors from each end of the chains. Alternatively, you can use carabiners, used in rock climbing, which might be easier for you to clip in place.

Lay the chain basket on the ground and spread it open. Place the fern centered on the basket and lift the circle chain to raise the basket around the ball. Lift the basket and plant into the air and secure the ends of the hanging chains to the circle chain. The hanging chains must be positioned evenly around the top edge of the basket -- the circle chain. Enlist several helpers to hoist the basket and secure the chains. Alternatively, you can hang the basket before lifting the fern into the basket.

Items you will need

  • Measuring tape
  • Heavy-duty 1/4-inch chain
  • Bolt cutters
  • 1/4-inch chain connectors
  • Long bolt
  • Washer
  • Nut
  • Garden hose
  • Carabiners (optional)


  • When you make your own basket rather than simply wrapping the root mass in chains, you reduce girdling the fern as it grows.

About the Author

A former cake decorator and competitive horticulturist, Amelia Allonsy is most at home in the kitchen or with her hands in the dirt. She received her Bachelor's degree from West Virginia University. Her work has been published in the San Francisco Chronicle and on other websites.

Photo Credits

  • Hemera Technologies/ Images