• Gabrielle Stannus

What's in a name?

Fancy calling a plant "Super Bum" right?. Well that is what I thought when I first saw the botanical name of the Staghorn Fern in print.


Platycerium superbum. How would you say it? Which syllable would you emphasise?


Well let me tell you that when I first read this name several years ago now, I was reluctant to even say the name aloud as I was unsure as to how to pronounce it. My brain told me that it should be said as Platycerium "super-bum". Now that sounded more like a plant you'd find growing in Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton's Treehouse book series for kids.


I know now (fortunately for my career) that the correct (i.e. least embarrassing) way to pronounce the botanical name of the Staghorn Fern is Platycerium "superb-um". The specific ephiphet "superbum" means "superb". Figures really, doesn't it!

Platycerium superbum in its natural rainforest environment (Image: The University of Melbourne)

The architectural foliage of this epiphytic fern certainly is superb!


Growing to 1.5-2 m x 1 m, this evergreen plant provides year-round foliage interest in the garden. The Staghorn Fern prefers full shade to semishade, not surprising given its real home is in the rainforests of New South Wales and Queensland. It can grow in temperate, subtropical and tropical climates, tolerating cold to 0 ℃.


Here in Tasmania and other parts of southern Australia, the Staghorn Fern will need a frost free, humid site. Try it indoors. This plant can survive without attention for some time as the pocket of fronds collects water. Be careful not to over-water or you may cause the plant to decay. Organic matter such as leaf-mould and well-rotted manures can be used to supplement nutrients. Many people choose to grow this fern on a board.


One of the best things about this 'awkward' name is that I can remember it very easily. Other plant names just don't roll off the tongue so easily. Crepidiastrixeris denticulatoplatyphylla or Ornithogalum adseptentrionesvergentulum anyone?


And fortunately as there are several other 'superb' plants, including Ensete superbum (an Indian banana), Eryngium alpinum 'Superbum' (Alpine Seaholly) and Leucanthemum x superbum (Shasta Daisy). So no tricking me up on that specific epithet now!

The simple white daisies of Leucanthemum x superbum are borne on stout, leafy stems (Image: The University of Melbourne)

What plant names have taken you aback? Share your mispronunciations or similar with us on Facebook. Don't worry, we will laugh with you, not at you ;)


A bientôt!

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