Soft Shield Fern - Polystichum setiferum

Alternative names
Soft Shield-fern

Polystichum setiferum is a tufted evergreen fern to 1.2 metres in height, with rosettes of soft textured, lance-shaped mid-green fronds, the stalks with prominent orange-brown scales.  The leaves are 1-pinnate, but with deeply-lobed pinnae, so the fern has a finely divided appearance.  The pinnules closest to the stem or rhachis are shortly stalked, with the blade more or less right-angled at base.

Similar Species

Hard Shield-fern (Polystichum aculeatum)

Identification difficulty
ID guidance

Pinnules with fine points, drawn out into 'whiskers'.  The right-angled base of the mature pinnules closest to the rhachis, in the centre of the frond, is characteristic; softer in feel than Hard Shield-fern

Recording advice

A good photo of the fronds is needed for verification


Often found in wooded areas or near water. It prefers cool, fertile, moist, humus-rich, shaded soils.

When to see it

All year round.

Life History


UK Status

Widespread in Britain except for the north of Scotland.

VC55 Status

Occasional but probably increasing in Leicestershire and Rutland. In the 1979 Flora survey of Leicestershire it was found in 12 of the 617 tetrads.

Leicestershire & Rutland Map


Yellow squares = NBN records (all known data)
Coloured circles = NatureSpot records: 2020+ | 2015-2019 | pre-2015

UK Map