Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Pteridophyta (Filicophyta)
Class: Pteridopsida (Filicopsida)
Subclass: Pteriditae
Order: Hypolepidales
Family: Hypolepidaceae
Genus: Pteridium

Pteridium aquilinum var. latiusculum

Common name: bracken

  • Pteridium aquilinum var. latiusculum Underwood, Heller's Catalog, 1909
  • (Pteridium aquilinum (L.) Kuhn, 1879)
  • (Pteris aquilina L., Species Plantarum, 1753)
  • (Pteridium latiusculum (Desvaux) Hieronymus, 1914)
  • (Pteris latiuscula Desvaux 1827)
  • Range: eastern United States
  • Range of species: most of the northern hemisphere
  • Chromosome count: n=26
  • Bracken is seldom so prolific in the United States that it may cause a problem. In the British Isles, however, it is a serious problem, comprising as much as half the entire plant biomass of some upland regions. It is poisonous to livestock, and carcinogenic to humans. The British government has an assistance program for bracken eradication. On the other hand, the Japanese love the fiddleheads as a cooked green, and it is believed that this contributes to their high rate of stomach cancer. Bracken has been under investigation for some time as a possible source of biologically-derived insecticides.

    The fronds are large and triangular. Usually, they are only about a half-meter high, but they may reach almost a meter under some circumstances. The specific name, "aquilinum", comes from the fancied resemblance of the uncurling fiddlehead to a clenched eagle's talon, at the moment when the two bottom pinnae are separating from the main coil. The fronds are sent up at intervals from a deep, running, slender rootstock which may quickly branch to colonize an area. The rhizome may grow laterally six feet or more under obstructions to reach new growing ground.

    Bracken can make an attractive garden subject in the eastern United States under special conditions. It should be grown in the context of a larger area where its size is in scale, and it must be grown in a location where its spreading tendencies can be positively controlled by mowing or other means. It is, of course, easy to grow.

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    This page was last revised on 11-21-1997.