It is most abundant in Ireland, southwestern Great Britain, western France and northwest Iberia, where it benefits from the combination of mild winters and moist summers, but also occurs more locally north to northern Scotland and east to the Crimea and Turkey; in the Mediterranean it usually grows at high altitudes. It grows in woodlands, often but not always on steep slopes.
The fern's bright green fronds are 30–120 cm (12–47 in) long, usually drooping downslope, with typically 4-10 fronds on a mature plant. The fronds are soft-textured, bipinnate (single-pinnate on small, young plants), with the pinnae opposite on the stalk. Each pinna is 4–14 cm (2–6 in) long, with a large upward-pointing pinnule at the base, and the other pinnules decreasing in size toward the pinna tip; the pinnules have softly bristly tips. Individual fronds live for 9 to 15 months and remain attached to the rhizome after withering. The round sori occupy two rows on either side of the midrib of each pinnule and are covered by a centrally-attached, umbrella-like indusium with fringed edges. They produce light yellow spores.
Polystichum setiferum is frequently cultivated as an ornamental plant for use in gardens. There are many cultivars available: over 300 have been described although most are no longer in cultivation or not considered sufficiently distinct for an individual name. The following cultivars have gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit:-
- Divisilobum Group
- Plumosomultilobum Group
- "BSBI List 2007". Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. Archived from the original (xls) on 2015-01-25. Retrieved 2014-10-17.
- Harrison, Lorraine (2012). RHS Latin for Gardeners. United Kingdom: Mitchell Beazley. ISBN 184533731X.
- Rickard 2000, p. 146
- "AGM Plants - Ornamental" (PDF). Royal Horticultural Society. July 2017. p. 81. Retrieved 9 May 2018.
- "RHS Plantfinder - Polystichum setiferum Divisilobum Group". Retrieved 9 May 2018.
- "RHS Plantfinder - Polystichum setiferum (Divisilobum Group) 'Divislobum Densum'". Retrieved 9 May 2018.
- "RHS Plantfinder - Polystichum setiferum (Divisilobum Group) 'Divisilobum Iveryanum'". Retrieved 9 May 2018.
- "RHS Plantfinder - Polystichum setiferum (Divisilobum Group) kHerrenhausen'". Retrieved 9 May 2018.
- "RHS Plantfinder - Polystichum setiferum Plumosomultilobum Group". Retrieved 9 May 2018.
- Flora Europaea: Polystichum setiferum
- Hyde, H. A., Wade, A. E., & Harrison, S. G. (1978). Welsh Ferns. National Museum of Wales.
- Rickard, Martin (2000). The Plantfinder's Guide to Garden Ferns. David & Charles
- Dyce, J. W. (2005). Polystichum Cultivars: Variation in the British Shield Ferns. British Pteridological Society
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