Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center - The University of Texas at Austin information

 Native Plant Database

Pteridium aquilinum

Western bracken fern, Bracken fern, Western bracken, Bracken

Dennstaedtiaceae (Bracken Fern Family)

Pteridium aquilinum (Western bracken fern)
Wasowski, Sally and Andy

A very aggressive fern of worldwide distribution for dry woodlands. The only fern for most dry shade situations. Ideal for dry Post Oak (Quercus stellata) forests and pine forests. The tripartite, furry, silvery fiddleheads emerge in early spring. The roots colonize aggressively and extend deep in search of moisture, as far as 10 feet deep in some locations.

Image Gallery:

5 photo(s) available

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Herb , Fern
Leaf Retention: Deciduous
Size Notes: Normally from 1 to 4 feet tall
Leaf: Dark to light Green
Size Class: 1-3 ft. , 3-6 ft.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: Not Applicable
Bloom Notes: Not a flowering plant. Reproduces by spores.


USA: AL , AK , AZ , AR , CA , CO , CT , DE , FL , GA , HI , ID , IL , IN , IA , KS , KY , LA , ME , MD , MA , MI , MN , MS , MO , MT , NV , NH , NJ , NM , NY , NC , ND , OH , OK , OR , PA , RI , SC , SD , TN , TX , UT , VT , VA , WA , WV , WI , WY , DC
Canada: BC , NB , NL , NS , ON , PE
Native Distribution: In every state of the US and almost every province of Canada. Almost worldwide.
Native Habitat: Dry woodlands, wet swamps and marshes, old fields, thickets

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Low , Medium
Light Requirement: Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Wet , Moist , Dry
Soil pH: Acidic (pH<6.8)
CaCO3 Tolerance: Medium
Soil Description: Acid clays, loams, and sands, preferably poor and sterile
Conditions Comments: Does not tolerate flooding. Though tolerant of dry soils, it goes dormant during droughts that last more than a week or two and will begin to die if it doesnt receive rain for 3 months. Requires a lot of water to get it established, but once established, relatively drought-tolerant, persistent, and aggressive.


Use Ornamental: Great foliage groundcover for dry woodlands
Use Wildlife: Provides shelter to small animals
Use Food: EDIBLE PARTS: Unfurled fronds. Gather young, tightly furled fiddleheads in early spring as soon as they first appear. Remove brownish, papery scales by rubbing with the hands. Soak for several hours in lightly salted water. Cook for 20 minutes on low heat in a pan filled with about 1/2 inch water. Drain well and serve like greens. (Poisonous Plants of N.C.)
Warning: POISONOUS PARTS: All parts, fiddleheads (curled-up leaves). Low toxicity if ingested. Symptoms include weakness, high fever, incoordination, convulsions. Toxic Principle: Thiaminase, a proteinaceous enzyme causing a reduction in vitamin B1; also a glycoside. (Poisonous Plants of N.C.)
Interesting Foliage: yes

Last Update: 2013-09-09