Common Name: Bracken

Scientific Name: Pteridium aquilinum

Family: Dennstaedtiaceae

Alternative Names: Brackenfern, Hairy Brackenfern, Brake, Eaglefern.

Range: Throughout British Isles

Habitat: Generally on heathland and moorland. Prefers acid soils but will tolerate a wide range of habitats and soil conditions.

Key Identification Features: Large perennial fern up to 2.5 m tall. Large heavily divided, triangualar fronds on a tall up-right stem. Puts up fresh shoots from an underground rhizome each spring. Above ground growth dies back in autumn.

Confusion Species: Other ferns especially Male Fern which is evergreen, and has orangey-brown scales on the fronds which grown from the ground in a basal rosette rather than from an upright stem.

Edible Uses: The young emerging shoots known as fiddleheads were considered edible and are still eaten in some countries but the contain the chemical Ptaquiloside which is carcinogenic and is not removed by cooking so consumption is not now recommended. Eaten raw the plant also contains the enzyme Thiaminase which destroys the vitamin B1 in the body and can result in a condition called Beri-beri. The rhizomes have also been eaten in some cultures as a source of carbohydrate, but again there are concerns about whether both the ptaquioside and thiaminase are completely removed.

Medicinal Uses: Historically both the roots and leaves have been used to treat a variety of medical conditions but in light of its toxicity (see above) internal consumption of any part is not recommended. 

Other Uses: The large, flat fronds make an excellent thatching material for waterproofing shelters and also a good insulation layer as bedding material. Care should be taken as in some areas in can harbour sheep and deer ticks, the spores which are released in late summer are also carcinogenic so it is not recommended to use as a bedding at this time of year. The thick stems are prone to splitting leaving razor sharp edges so care should be taken when harvesting.  The dry, dead fronds make a reasonable tinder to make tinder bundles.


bracken frond

bracken dead frond



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