Bracken Fern

I have not posted a fern in a long time. . .

Bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum), a cosmopolitan plant found throughout the world, is considered one of the most abundant plant species. Its habitat is acidic, often sandy, soils, dry to wet forests and disturbed sites. Since the deep rhizomes can withstand forest fires, bracken ferns are one of the first plants to recolonize. In the United States bracken fern is mostly restricted to west of the Rockies.

Bracken ferns can grow up to five meters (16.4′) in height, however 1.0 to 1.5 meters (about 3 to 5 feet) is a more typical range. The triangular fern fronds grow individually and are connected by hairy, many-branched, underground rhizomes. The frond has 2 or 3 times pinnate leaves (leaflets are placed on either side of a common axis and then the leaflets are again divided) which are green to straw-colored. The stipe (stem or stalk) is stout and has no scales. Toward the tip of the frond the leaves are lance-shaped and rounded. A deciduous plant, the leaves die off each winter.

When present, the sori (spore sacs) are often sterile. Sori are found  on the revolute (turned in) margins of the leaflets. Indusium (protective spore cluster coverings) are not evident.

Bracken fern fronds were used by Pacific Northwest Coast Indians as linings for their pit ovens. Other Native American groups collected the fibrous rhizomes and ate them after roasting and cooking. Despite their aboriginal use, I choose not to eat bracken ferns since these plants have been implicated in livestock poisoning and stomach cancer.

These plants were growing along the North Umpqua Trail (Oregon) on the sandy banks of the North Umpqua River, not far from Steamboat.

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