Bracken Fern

Bracken FernThe bracken fern, which is also called the eagle fern, grows locally, and occurs in temperate and subtropical regions on all continents except Antarctica. The extreme lightness of its spores has led to its global distribution. This fern, known by its scientific name pteridium aquilinum was first described as pteris aquilina by the father of taxonomy, Carl Linnaeus, in 1753. The genus name comes from the diminutive of the Greek words pteris meaning fern. The Aquilina derives its name from the Latin aquila, meaning “eagle,” based upon the shape of the mature fronds resembling an eagle’s wing.
Common bracken is a herbaceous perennial plant, deciduous in winter. The large, roughly triangular fronds are produced singly, arising upwards from an underground rhizome, and normally grow to at least three feet to as high as ten feet tall. The main stem, or stipe, is up to 0.4 inch in diameter at the base. It is typically found in woods (including somewhat dry woodland areas), fields, old pastures, thickets, areas with disturbed soils, burned-out areas and marshes. Established plants tolerate brief periods of drought. Fronds of this deciduous fern die back somewhat rapidly after the first fall frost with new fiddleheads emerging from the ground in spring
An adaptable plant, bracken readily colonizes disturbed areas. It is easily grown in consistently moist soils in full sun to part shade, favoring sandy to peaty acidic soils. It is rarely found in areas with alkaline soils and grows well in poor soils. Hardy and vigorous, but often weedy, the bracken can prove difficult to control or eradicate once established due to deep creeping rootstock. Plants spring back quickly after fires or logging, often out-competing other species and impeding regeneration of trees and shrubs. It spreads by wind-blown spores and creeping rhizomes.
Considered edible, bracken is a widely eaten vegetable in Korea, Japan and parts of China. In Korea, soaked, parboiled, and stir-fried bracken is often eaten as namul, a seasoned vegetable side dish. It is also a classic ingredient of bibimbap. Nevertheless, the plant contains the carcinogenic compound ptaquiloside. High stomach cancer rates are found in Japan and North Wales, where the young stems are used as a vegetable. Consumption of ptaquiloside-contaminated milk is thought to contribute to human gastric cancer in the Andean states of Venezuela. The spores have also been implicated as carcinogens.

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