Abstract The fern Platycerium bifurcatum is a valuable component of the flora of tropical forests, where degradation of local ecosystems and changes in lighting conditions occur due to the increasing anthropogenic pressure. In ferns, phytochrome mechanism responsible for the response to changes in the value of R/FR differs from the mechanism observed in spermatophytes. This study analyzed the course of ontogenesis of nest leaves in P. bifurcatum at two values of the R/FR ratio, corresponding to shadow conditions (low R/FR) and intense insolation (high R/FR). The work used only non-destructive research analysis, such as measurements of reflectance of radiation from the leaves, their blue-green and red fluorescence, and the chlorophyll a fluorescence kinetics. This allowed tracing the development and aging processes in the same leaves. Nest leaves are characterized by short, intense growth and rapid senescence. The study identified four stages of development of the studied leaves related to morphological and anatomical structure and changing photochemical efficiency of PSII. Under the high R/FR ratio, the rate of ontogenesis of the leaf lamina was much slower than under the low R/FR value. As shown, the rapid aging of the leaves was correlated with faster decline of the chlorophyll content. It was shown that leaf senescence was accompanied by accumulation of polyphenols, anthocyanins and carotenoids on the basis of reflectance and fluorescence measurements in the blue-green range.