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 several cultivars available. The species and the cultivar 'Divisilobum Iveryanum'' have both gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.
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