Friday, January 23, 2009

Pteridium - Bracken

So as to not get too confused, I'm taking the pictures as I have them filed, and this one is filed under Bracken, even though the correct Latin name is Pteridium aquilinum. Our patch of it is right near the entrance to the gardens and it always gets people's attention. It is tall, at least 3 feet, so you can't really miss it. The fronds, 3 per plant, are at the top of a tall stem. It spreads by rhizomes and so I always have a good bit to share, but I have found that you have to dig it just as it is emerging, before the fronds unfurl, if you want to have any success in transplanting. Ours has moved across the path (something we had been hoping it would do) and is colonizing underneath the large spruce. Hopefully it will keep the area weed free there since it seems to not allow too much else to grow where it wants to be.

Bracken doesn't seem to be all that available, at least in catalogs that I get. It is hardy over a wide range from zone 3 all the way up to 10. There are also a number of varieties, even a crested one. A lot of people won't grow it because it does spread and some would even call it invasive. One plus, though, is that it can take full sun which is quite unusual for a fern. It is not hard to control even though its rhizomes are several inches below the ground unlike most other ferns. For this reason, it can survive a forest fire and may be one of the first things to regrow. Some people used to eat the fiddleheads in the spring, but they have been found to be carcinogenic, so it probably isn't a good idea. Not sure if this applies to all ferns or just bracken. They never really appealed to me anyway, so it won't be a problem. I have seen canned fiddleheads in some specialty stores and always thought that they would have been much nicer growing in the woods than in a can.

I have heard that in 'olden days' people would line their dresser drawers with bracken to keep moths and other insects away and sometimes also used it as part of their mattress filling. Since it is deciduous, gathering the leaves after frost and after they have dried doesn't harm the plant and could be quite useful.


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