To our eyes, southern shield fern, Thelypteris Kunthii, has lyrical quality to it, as if it’s dancing to music only it can hear. Less romantic souls will say there is no music, that plants can’t hear.
But even deniers must concede southern shield’s grace and beauty; its good looks have made it a landscaping favorite.
Southern shield is a Florida native, commonly found in the wilds of the Peninsula and Panhandle, though rarely in the Keys. It’s been collected in all but five of Florida’s 67 counties.
Its natural range includes the southeastern United States, South Carolina to Texas, as well as the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America and the shoulders of South America.
It’s a medium sized terrestrial fern, growing between one and three feet tall, fronds broad at the base, gradually tapering to a point. Fronds reach out in all directions from a central cluster.
Southern shield prefers shady, moist habitats — woodlands, limestone sinks, riverbanks and ditches.
In landscaping, it’s often used as an accent plant in shady or partially shady spots.
The Seminoles used southern shield to treat insanity, as they did a number of ferns. They also used it as an orthopedic aid to treat weakness in the limbs and neck and something they called old paint woman sickness.
Southern shield is also known as wood fern, river fern, Kunth’s maiden fern and normal shield fern. It is a member of Thelypteridaceae, the marsh fern family.