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Pteridium aquilinum

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Plant Profile

Dennstaedtiaceae (Pteridium)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
2 metres tall
Heathland, moorland, mountains, woodland.
Bracken is a fern so does not have flowers. Instead, it reproduces using spores.
Large triangular fronds, divided into 3 parts. Each part is bipinnately subdivided. The leaves when young look like 'shepherd's crooks', or 'croziers'. In autumn, the leaves turn yellow-brown and persist throughout winter.
When bruised it gives out Hydrogen Cyanide and smells of bitter almonds.
Other Names:
Bracken Fern, Brackenfern, Brake, Brake Fern, Common Bracken, Eagle Fern, Eastern Bracken.
Frequency (UK):

Other Information


Pteridium aquilinum, also known as bracken fern or brake fern, is a species of fern that is native to many parts of the world, including Europe, Asia, and North America. It is a common plant that is found in a range of habitats, including forests, grasslands, and meadows. Pteridium aquilinum is a large, perennial plant that can grow up to 6 feet tall. It has large, triangular fronds that are light green in color and are divided into many small leaflets. The plant reproduces by producing spores, which are produced on the undersides of the fronds. Pteridium aquilinum is a hardy plant that is able to tolerate a range of growing conditions. It grows best in moist, well-draining soil and can tolerate partial shade to full sun. However, it is not well suited to heavy, clay soils and prefers a more acidic soil.


Bracken, also known as Pteridium aquilinum, is a common fern species that is widely distributed across the world. It is known for its fast growth and resilience, making it a dominant species in many ecosystems.

Bracken is a large and imposing plant that can grow up to 3 meters tall. It has long, triangular fronds that are usually dark green in color and are covered in small, delicate leaflets. The fern's root system is extensive and its underground rhizomes can extend up to several meters from the main plant.

One of the key features of Bracken is its ability to spread quickly and efficiently. The fern's underground rhizomes can produce new shoots at a fast pace, allowing it to colonize large areas in a short amount of time. This has made Bracken a problem in some areas where it is considered invasive, as it can outcompete native plant species and reduce biodiversity.

Despite its invasive nature, Bracken is still an important species in many ecosystems. It provides valuable habitat for wildlife, including insects, birds, and mammals. The fern's leaves are a rich source of food for grazing animals such as deer and cattle, and its roots are also used for medicinal purposes in some cultures.

Despite its benefits, Bracken also poses a number of threats to human health. The fern is known to contain high levels of carcinogenic compounds, and exposure to Bracken can increase the risk of developing certain types of cancer. In addition, the fern's large size and fast growth can pose a hazard to people and animals, especially in areas with steep slopes or where the fern grows close to paths and trails.

Bracken also has an impact on soil ecology and nutrient cycling. Its extensive root system can change the structure of soil, making it more difficult for other plants to establish. The fern also has a high demand for nutrients, and it can significantly reduce the availability of certain elements such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium for other plant species in the area.

In terms of fire ecology, Bracken is highly flammable and can contribute to the spread of wildfires. The fern's tall fronds provide fuel for fires and its extensive rhizome system can allow the fire to move underground, making it more difficult to extinguish.

Bracken is also of cultural and historical significance. In many cultures, the fern is seen as a symbol of resilience and adaptability, and it has been used for medicinal and food purposes for centuries. The fern's leaves and stems have been used to make baskets, mats, and roofing materials, and its roots have been used as a food source and a traditional medicine in many cultures.

Despite its negative impacts, Bracken is an important species that deserves to be protected and managed responsibly. By working to understand the ecology of Bracken and the role it plays in different ecosystems, we can ensure that this important species continues to thrive for generations to come.

Bracken management is an important issue in many areas where the fern is considered invasive. There are a number of different strategies that can be used to control Bracken populations, including physical removal, chemical control, and grazing management.

Physical removal is one of the most effective methods for controlling Bracken populations, but it can also be time-consuming and labor-intensive. This method involves digging up the fern's underground rhizomes and removing them from the site. This is most effective when the fern is young and has not yet established a large root system.

Chemical control is another option for controlling Bracken populations, but it should be used with caution. Herbicides can be effective in controlling Bracken, but they can also have negative impacts on other plant species and the environment. It is important to carefully consider the benefits and drawbacks of chemical control and to follow label instructions when using herbicides.

Grazing management can also be an effective method for controlling Bracken populations. By using livestock to graze on the fern, it is possible to control the plant's growth and spread. This method is most effective when the fern is young and has not yet established a large root system.

In conclusion, Bracken management is an important issue in many areas, and there are a number of strategies that can be used to control the plant's populations. Physical removal, chemical control, and grazing management are all effective methods, but it is important to consider the potential benefits and drawbacks of each method and to choose the most appropriate strategy for each situation. By working to manage Bracken populations in a responsible way, we can ensure that this important species continues to play a valuable role in the environment.


Bracken filmed in Rendlesham Forest, Suffolk on the 29th June 2022.


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Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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