The Tree Center

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Southern Shield Fern

Christella normalis

How are the heights measured?

All tree, and nothin' but the tree! We measure from the top of the soil to the top of the tree; the height of the container or the root system is never included in our measurements.

What is a gallon container?

Nursery containers come in a variety of different sizes, and old-school nursery slang has stuck. While the industry-standard terminology is to call the sizes "Gallon Containers", that doesn't exactly translate to the traditional liquid "gallon" size we think of. You'll find we carry young 1-gallons, up to more mature 7-gallons ranging anywhere from 6 inches to 6ft.

How does the delivery process work?

All of our orders ship via FedEx Ground! Once your order is placed online, our magic elves get right to work picking, staging, boxing and shipping your trees. Orders typically ship out within 2 business days. You will receive email notifications along the way on the progress of your order, as well as tracking information to track your plants all the way to their new home!

Why are some states excluded from shipping?

The short & sweet answer is: "United States Department of Agriculture Restrictions." Every state has their own unique USDA restrictions on which plants they allow to come into their state. While we wish we could serve everyone, it's for the safety of native species and helps prevent the spread of invasive disease & pests. We've gotta protect good ole' Mother Nature, after all.

About Me

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The Southern Shield Fern is a deciduous native fern that forms a bold clump of upright fronds, about 3 feet tall, which are finely divided with drooping tips. The light green coloring turns glowing bronzy-gold colors in fall, giving good winter interest. This tough fern tolerates more sun, drier soils, and the heat and humidity of the South better than just about any other fern. Grow it beneath trees, fronting large shrubs, by water, on slopes and banks, and anywhere you want rich green textures and low maintenance.

  • Graceful arching fronds with the classic ‘ferny’ look
  • Fronds turn beautiful bronzy-gold in fall
  • Tolerates drier conditions, heat and humidity well
  • Grows in full sun if the soil is damp
  • Ideal for the heat and humidity of the South

The Southern Shield Fern grows well in the hottest and most humid states, but it also grows in warmer parts of zone 6. It thrives in ordinary soils, and while it enjoys damper, richer soils, it will still grow in drier conditions in shade than many other ferns. It doesn’t have pests or diseases and it isn’t eaten by deer or rabbits. A simple annual trimming of the dead fronds is all the care it needs.

Plant Hardiness Zones 6-9
Mature Width 3-5
Mature Height 2-3
Soil Conditions Tolerates Wet Soil
Sunlight Full Sun to Full Shade
Drought Tolerance Moderate Drought Tolerance
Zones 6-9

If you haven’t had much to do with ferns, then you probably have an image of a ‘fern’ that is exactly the way the Southern Shield Fern looks. It has the classic ‘fern’ look of arching, finely-divided green fronds rising 2 or 3 feet into the air, looking cool and elegant beneath trees and in other shady places. This doesn’t mean it is a fern that is too ‘ordinary’ for your garden – not at all. If you need ferns that won’t shrivel and die in the heat and humidity of the South, this baby is for you. If you need a fern that will grow in very ordinary conditions and in drier soils than many others, and even grow in full sun, here it is. If you want a no-nonsense fern to fill those difficult shady spots that so many gardens have – and transform them from ‘boring and vacant’ into ‘full and lush’ – then why wait any longer – the Southern Shield Fern is here for you.

Growing the Southern Shield Fern

Size and Appearance

The Southern Shield Fern is a medium-sized deciduous fern with large triangular fronds that are 2½ to 3 feet long and about a foot wide at their base, making a substantial plant of considerable charm. The fronds grow up more-or-less vertically, then arch over in a graceful curve. The central stalk carries rows of side stems, and these carry tiny leaflets, giving a finely-divided look to this plant. The side stems bend downwards towards their end, so the whole plant is almost semi-weeping. This plant doesn’t have a central crown with a neat circle of leaves – instead they rise up from the ground and arch over in every direction, giving a very casual look. This plant slowly spreads by short underground stems, but it isn’t invasive. In a few years it will form a beautiful and substantial mass of vegetation. The leaves are light green in spring as they unfurl, becoming a little darker through summer and then turning bold and attractive bronzy gold colors in fall. It will remain standing into winter, making a good contribution to the winter look of your garden.

Using the Southern Shield Fern in Your Garden

This fern is one of the very best fillers for shady parts of your garden, especially in the South. It is perfect for filling beds in front of shrubs and small trees, in woody areas or in regular garden beds. Use it along the wall on the north side of your home, or in the shade beneath spreading trees. Plant smaller ferns in front, or group it with large-leaf Hosta and flowering perennials and shrubs, such as azaleas and camellias. The foliage contrast that ferns give is so valuable in making a rich garden picture, and the Southern Shield Fern is a simple way to get that look.

Hardiness

Although native to areas that are zone 8 and 9, this fern is surprisingly hardy, surviving brief periods down to 0o degrees Fahrenheit. So it will grow in warmer parts of zone 6, and in zone 7 too. Definitely a great fern for all the warm and hot parts of the country, enjoying the heat and humidity of the South.

Sun Exposure and Soil Conditions

If the soil is damp enough The Southern Shield Fern will even grow in full sun, but it is easier in partial or full shade, where it is valuable for tolerating drier conditions than most ferns, including periods of drought. It grows in almost any soil, including areas with poor drainage, although it will certainly do best in soils rich in rotted leaves and compost, and that are usually damp.

Maintenance and Pruning

There is really nothing much to say about maintaining the Southern Shield Fern, as it only needs an annual cut-down of the dead fronds, anytime between late fall and early spring. Some gardeners like to leave them for winter interest, others like a cleaner garden – it’s up to you. Pest or diseases don’t normally come along, and deer or rabbits don’t bother it.

History and Origin of the Southern Shield Fern

The Southern Shield Fern grows from Texas and Arkansas to Florida and North Carolina, as well as in Mexico, Central America and on islands of the Caribbean. It is found in many different habitats, including moist rocky areas with little soil and drier shady places, as well as along streams and in woodlands.

They say ‘a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’, and the Southern Shield Fern certainly has plenty of names to choose from. The ‘best’ botanical name is Christella normalis, but other names it is often listed as include Dryopteris normalis, Cyclosorus kunthii, Thelypteris normalis, and Thelypteris kunthii. There are quiet a few more too. It also has lots of common names, including wood fern, normal shield fern, river fern, and Kunth’s maiden fern. Its first naming dates to 1858, when it was called Lastrea kunthii by the Scottish-born head of the Irish Botanical Gardens, David Moore. He named it in honor of Carl Sigismund Kunth, a German botanist who was one of the very first to study American plants. Kunth published 7 volumes in the early 19th century on the plants discovered by Alexander von Humboldt in the previous century.

Buying the Southern Shield Fern at the Tree Center

We love the adaptability of the Southern Shield Fern, and how well it does in drier soil and the heat and humidity of the South. For an easy fern with the classic ‘ferny’ look, you don’t need to go further. It’s easy growth means it is always in high demand, so order now or our plants will have all gone.

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Southern Shield Fern

Christella normalis