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

Pteridium aquilinum

Pteridium aquilinum (L.) Kuhn

Western Bracken Fern, Bracken Fern, Western Bracken, Bracken

Dennstaedtiaceae (Bracken Fern Family)



USDA Native Status: L48 (N), AK (N), HI (N), CAN (N), SPM (N)

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.


From the Image Gallery

7 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Herb , Fern
Leaf Retention: Deciduous
Size Notes: Normally from 1 to 4 feet tall
Leaf: Dark to light Green

Bloom Information

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


USA: AK , AL , AR , AZ , CA , CO , CT , DC , DE , FL , GA , HI , IA , ID , IL , IN , KS , KY , LA , MA , MD , ME , MI , MN , MO , MS , MT , NC , ND , NH , NJ , NM , NV , NY , OH , OK , OR , PA , RI , SC , SD , TN , TX , UT , VA , VT , WA , WI , WV , WY
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: Dry , Moist , Wet
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 doesn't 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


Propagation Material: Root Division
Description: Divide roots while plant is dormant.
Maintenance: Water regularly to get it established, then let it naturalize, watering only during extended droughts. Reduce watering if gets too aggressive. Cut back during winter so new spring growth will be unobstructed.

Mr. Smarty Plants says

Groundcover to reduce erosion for shady area in New York
May 05, 2009
We live on a lake with gravelly and clay soils, lots of wind and little sun. I am looking for a native ground cover that will help reduce erosion over some of the steep slopes facing south (under shad...
view the full question and answer

National Wetland Indicator Status

This information is derived from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Wetland Plant List, Version 3.1 (Lichvar, R.W. 2013. The National Wetland Plant List: 2013 wetland ratings. Phytoneuron 2013-49: 1-241). Click here for map of regions.

From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:

Pineywoods Native Plant Center - Nacogdoches, TX
Crosby Arboretum - Picayune, MS
Mt. Cuba Center - Hockessin, DE


Bibref 1620 - Gardening with Native Plants of the South (Reprint Edition) (2009) Wasowski, S. with A. Wasowski
Bibref 841 - Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants (2006) Burrell, C. C.
Bibref 318 - Native Texas Plants: Landscaping Region by Region (2002) Wasowski, S. & A. Wasowski
Bibref 663 - Poisonous Plants of North Carolina (1994) Vondracek, W. ; L. Van Asch

Search More Titles in Bibliography

Additional resources

USDA: Find Pteridium aquilinum in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Pteridium aquilinum in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Pteridium aquilinum


Record Modified: 2013-09-09
Research By: TWC Staff

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