Bracken Ferns

2017 February 25

Some months ago, I posted some pictures of wild ferns that I had initially misidentified as bracken ferns. They weren’t.

These, that I photographed on August 1, 2016, are a different story, though. They are most definitely Bracken (and were growing just a few feet uphill from the not-bracken-ferns).


Unlike the nearby lady ferns, bracken leaves don’t start at ground level at the base of the plant, but instead grow on fairly long reddish-brown stalks.



The leaves themselves are classically fern-like.


Like other ferns, bracken produces spores on the undersides of their leaves. Unlike other ferns, the spore-producing structures of bracken are linear ridges instead of circular patches.


Where a lot of ferns have a strong preference for wet, marshy ground, bracken seems to do just fine in a variety of habitats, including fairly dry land. Their wind-blown spores have traveled around the world, and so while there are just a few bracken species, they are found worldwide even without human help carrying them around.

Like most other ferns, bracken is pretty unpalatable. There are some insects that will eat them, but grazing animals like cows are not big fans. Humans can eat the young “fiddleheads” when they first come up in the spring, but they contain a carcinogen that may not be fully destroyed or leached out during cooking, so it is probably a good idea not to eat too much. Also, if eaten fresh, it contains an enzyme that isn’t exactly toxic, but destroys Vitamin B1 (Thiamine). So eating too much can cause beriberi, the result of B1 deficiency.

Having been found around the world, people have come up with numerous uses for bracken, ranging from eating fiddleheads, extracting starch from their roots, using dried fronds as animal bedding or furniture stuffing, and even using the ashes for wool degreasing or as the alkaline component of Forest glass[1].

[1] I had not previously known about forest glass. I mean, sure, I knew that glass was made by mixing silica sand with alkalis like lime or sodium carbonate, but I didn’t realize that there used to be a whole industry based on using plant ashes as the alkali source.

One Response
  1. Carole permalink
    February 25, 2017

    Have read they put out a chemical which discourages other plants.

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