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Platycerium superbum, D'Aguilar National Park, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

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Survival Strategies: Humus-impounding Plants.

Many epiphytes create their very own reserves of canopy soil.  Common examples in nature and in horticulture are humus-impounding Bird-nest Ferns such as Asplenium australasicum that holds through-fall in outstretched leafy rosettes as do the so-called Elk-horn Ferns Platycerium bifurcatum and Stag-horn Ferns P. superbum.  Both catch such considerable volumes of plant debris in their annually produced impounding leaves that Australian bush-walkers (hikers) call them widow makers.  However, they are really an insignificant danger because humus is relatively lightweight.

  These ferns are prime examples of how wanting popular plant names are because they are used quite inappropriately in Australia.  In the USA, P. superbum, the species that does possess elk-horn like leaves is appropriately called Elkhorn while Staghorn is used for Staghorn-leafed P. bifurcatum.

Such species often contain opportunist ants nesting in their humus.  Other ferns often associated with opportunist ants are the Asian species Asplenium nidus, Platycerium coronarium and others.

Detrivores and Dangers.

In addition to resident ants, impounded humus is exploited by a wide range of small animals, fungi, microbes and trespassing epiphytes such as Hare’s foot ferns Davallia species.

  Detrivores feed on and consequently break down dead plant or animal matter.  Other humus inhabitants, including carnivorous animals add uneaten remains of their prey, their bodily excretions and eventually their expired bodies to the “living” humus, eventually returning nutrients to their ecosystem.

  Nevertheless, not all arboreal humus inhabitants are harmless compost eaters; for example, a danger in mid coastal regions of eastern Australia is the highly venomous, hand-sized, Northern Tree Funnel-web Spider Hadronyche formidabilis that builds tunneled retreats within tree crevices or plant-impounded humus and it is quite capable of killing humans.  As its specific name implies it is formidable.

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