Platycerium andinum PDF Print E-mail
Written by ABOFOA   
Tuesday, 22 December 2009 01:52


Platycerium andinum

(platy-CER-e-um    an-DI-num)
The "Crown of the Angels"

by Roy Vail

(photo of a mature ring of Platycerium andinum, taken from a road, in the El Quinillall reserve, near Picota,

San Martin, Peru. This full-sum location NOT a typical habitat for Platycerium andinum. It is an understory plant,

which means it normally lives high in the trees, but is mostly shaded by the layer of leaves above it, formed by

the very tallesttree limbs. That makes it very difficult to photograph. This one is out in the open because of

the clearing necessary for the road.)

The largest fern in the Americas lives in the Department of San Martin and is known as the

"Crown of the Angels", it’s scientific name is Platycerium andinum. It doesn’t look like most other ferns.

There are only 18 species of Platycerium in the world, 4 in Australia, 3 in Africa, 4 on the island of

Madagascar, 6 in tropical Asia and in the Americas the only one is Platycerium andinum.

Platycerium andinum has a very limited range, it only grows on the eastern slopes of the

Andes Mountains and only in dry tropical forests of north east Peru and a small area in Bolivia.

This is one of the reasons this great fern is today, in danger of becoming extinct.


(From the book "Platycerium Hobbyist's Handbook," by Roy Vail)

The Biology:

Platycerium andinum is an epiphyte, a plant that lives on other plants, but it is not a parasite.

Epiphytes make their own food. Orchids also are epiphytes but Platycerium andinum is not

an orchid, it is a fern.  Ferns have no  flowers. They reproduce by spores that are blown

from one tree to another by the wind. A new plant begins to grow from a single spore that

sticks to a branch or trunk of a tree.

More new plants can then form from the tips of its roots. These new plants are called pups.

In time a single, original Platycerium andinum produces enough new pups to form a large cluster.

However, the plants in the cluster are side-by-side, not scattered.  The cluster of ferns forms

a ring around the tree. The plants in the ring tend to be about the same size, so it is not

possible to tell which plant was the original.  The open top of the ring gives it the name

"Crown."  Each separate plant in a "crown" can be 2 meters (6.5 feet) from top to bottom.

Of the 18 species of Platycerium in the world, the one that is the closest relative to

Platycerium andinum is found only in the dry western side ofthe island of  Madagascar,

off the east coast of Africa. This species is Platycerium quadridichotomum. (quad-ri-di-COT-to-mum)

It is a smaller than Platycerium andinum, but it also forms crowns. In many ways it looks like a

small version of Platycerium andinum.

(Photo above is Platycerium  quadridichotomum . This was taken in Madagascar. Few people

have seen this species this large. Most plants in cultivation are only about one foot tall.)


What benefit it is for Platycerium andinum to become so large is not understood. How a spore from its ancestor,

Platycerium quadiridicotum crossed Africa, the Atlantic Ocean and the Amazon all the way to San Martin, Peru, is

even less understood.

We do know, for sure, Platycerium andinum iis a magnificent fern.

The leaves of ferns are called fronds. Platycerium andinum has two types of fronds. Both develop from a central bud.

The long green fronds that hang down are named fertile fronds because on their back they have dark brown patches

of spores that the plant uses for reproduction.When they grow old, they drop to the ground. The other type of

fronds are called base fronds. They grow back toward the tree and reach high above the bud. Their bottom half

tends to be thick, and, when dead, look like cork. They form a mass that protects the roots and stores water for the

whole cluster. As the cluster matures, the dead base fronds develop very distinctive flat shelf behind the living outer

plants.  The upper half of the base fronds is thinner and rots away. It is normal each year for all the base fronds to

turn brown and die. Usually in December a new set of green base fronds grow, covering the old dead brown ones.

This giant plant has no bulb or other special food storage structure.


(This telephoto was taken near the Rio Mayo outside Tarapoto in December of 1996. The brown places on the long

green fertile fronds are the spore patches. The crown at the top is formed by the dead brown base fronds. A new

green set of  base fronds are forming. The cluster is growing on a Quinilla tree. (Manilkara bidentata - Sapotaceae)

It is possible Platycerium andinum is most often found growing on Quinilla trees because the rough bark offers many

habitats where spores of the fern could germinate.)


The first scientific report of the Crown of the Angels was by British naturalist Richard

Spruce who lived in Tarapoto for two years in the mid-1800's. It was described and given

the name Platycerium andinum by a Mr. Baker in 1891 who gave its typical location as Tarapoto.

Strangely it was then lost. One writer suggested it did not exist, that the original plant had

been a cultivated garden plant, actually native to Australia. Then, in 1962, nearly 100 years

after Richard Spruce, Mr. Lee Moore of Miami rediscovered one cluster of Platycerium andinum

near Pucallpa, Peru, a city not in a Tropical Dry Forest. After two days of searching he could

find no others. Then they were found near Tarapoto, and exported to the U. S. and Europe

in boxes with tropical fish. Today they are cultivated by hobbyist's from pups and spores.

Very few are exported.

In the meantime the forests near Tarapoto were cleared for lumber, and to make room for

cultivation of corn, rice, tobacco, bananas and other crops.


What needs to be done now

One of the giant problems for the survival of Platycerium andinum is that few people realize

there is such a thing as the Tropical Dry Forest biome. When people hear the word "tropical"

they automatically think of Tropical Rain Forest. Unfortunately this lack of knowledge also

extends to those who live in the Tropical Dry Forest.

Tropical Dry Forest, the home of Platycerium andinum, is a rare biome.

--It needs to be protected.

--What remains of it needs to be studied.

--It needs to be photographed.

--What is known needs to be published.



The giant and elegant fern Platycerium andinum should become the symbol of the Tropical Dry Forest in

Peru. Tourist information about San Martin should highlight the rare" Crown of the Angels," Tourist information

should promote that this part of San Martin, Peru, is unique because it is in the very heart of the rare

Tropical Dry Forest biome. San Martin has forests with giant trees, many palm species, giant cacti,

giant ferns, unique orchids, distinctive frogs, butterflies, all side-by-side.

Clusters of Platycerium andinum need to be on display. Tourists should see them at the airport in Tarapoto.

They should be visible on trees and homes in the Rio Huallaga Valley.  They should be in art and on postcards.

Australia has Platycerium species also.  In the popular tourist city of Kuranda, there is a train station that has

large beautiful native Platycerium specimens hanging high where they are seen by all. Tourists buy  post cards

of them. Tourists remember how beautiful they are. It only requires one man to take care of them all, and

that is not his only job.


(Gustavo Carcamo speaks at the dedication of the El Quinial reserve, near Picota, Peru. For more information,

go to my website, listed below)

Some practical information:

Platycerium andinum does not like full sun or great amounts of water. It grows best on trees with rough bark,

but not palms.  It can be grown on plaques of wood. For it to become a crown it should be placed on a vertical

limb or post. It may be attached by driving a row of nails on each side of where the plant will be, then secure

the plant with nylon monofilament fishing leader strung from the nails back and forth across the plant. Care

must be taken not to damage the bud. Shredded dead leaves can be put behind the plant to keep the roots

from becoming too dry.

No one knows how long it takes a large crown cluster to develop in the forest. I would estimate 10 to 20 years.

Beautiful individual specimens can be grown in much less time. In a garden a crown may caused to develop faster

if several plants are attached in a ring around a tree.


(Notice the flat shelf behind the living base fronds and where the tree was. The shelf was formed

by the dead base fronds, and are full of roots)

(A ring of Platycerium andinum, that has                 (The thick, cork-like base fronds of a Platycerium. They

died, leaving only the base fronds on                       function as water storage, and roots grow among them.)

the tree.)

- - - - -

The photo below of a old and giant ring of Platycerium andinum was taken August 7, 2010.

I have cropped it, and increased the brightness and contrast. To me it shows that, as a ring

increases in size, the individual plants increase in size, cut the number of plants does NOT

increase.  Also, if, as I think, each plant forms only one set of shield fronds per year, it

should be possible to tell how old each plant is, or the cluster, by counting back the number

of shield fronds it has formed.

- - - - -

The Author
I wrote and published a book, "Platycerium Hobbyist's Handbook", about the species and cultivated

forms of Platycerium. Plants of the genus Platycerium have been my hobby for nearly 30 years.

My first trip to San Martin was with Mr. Lee Moore in December of 1995. I returned in March of 1996,

May of 1997 and August of 1999. in 2000, 2001 and November of 2009,  to concentrate on studying

Platycerium andinum and trying to save its habitat. The articles I have written about Platycerium andinum

contain more information than everything written before them combined.

I am a retired high-school biology teacher.


Roy Vail holding a Platycerium native to Australia.

More information on my effort in Peru can be found at my website,


- - - - - - - - - - -

Added photos they sent as e-mail attachments.



Two rings, one on each trunk of this Quinilla tree. These are young rings because they are still close to

the tree.  They have not grown out from from the tree. As the rings get older, they grow forward,

causing a shelf behind the outermost shield fronds.  The JPEG file shows this was taken August 16, 2011.

Notice the shields on these clusters are brown.



Dr. Phil Wittman showing rope climbing to members of ABOFOA



Dr. Phil Wittman next to a Platycerium andinum.  This one also is young with brown shields. (This was my third attempt to get this photo the correct size.)



Last Updated on Tuesday, 13 September 2011 01:57