Bracken Fern, Pteridium aquilinum
Polypodiaceae – Fern family
The broad leaves resemble great “wings” (“pteron” in Greek) giving rise to the generic name. On closer inspection, these leaves are three times pinnate, a pattern suggesting an eagle’s claw (“aqui”) thereby giving rise to the specific name.
The large, feathery fronds of the bracken (brake) fern usually rise several feet above the forest floor from thick underground stems (rhizomes). In the Northwest, this is the tallest and fastest growing of the ferns, reaching heights up to 16 feet in very favorable conditions. It’s refreshing tropical-like greenery of the spring and summer are lost in the fall as these fronds turn yellow and then a shriveled brown by winter. After being roasted and peeled, the thick starchy rhizomes were widely used for food by Northwest Natives. The tender “fiddleheads” of unfurled leaves were also consumed. However, bracken fern contains several chemical compounds that when ingested in great quantity as cattle are prone to do, can prove toxic. It follows that cattle ranchers generally regard this fern as a weed (5-31).
Information courtesy of “The View From Springbrook Park; an Illustrated Natural History” by Ed Chinn.
Photos taken by Laura Tanz
Sponsored by Friends of Springbrook Park; Lake Oswego, OR