Ontario Weeds: Eastern bracken

Return to the Ontario Weeds Gallery

Excerpt from Publication 505, Ontario Weeds, Order this publication

Table of Contents

  1. Name
  2. Other Names
  3. Family
  4. General Description
  5. Leaves
  6. Habitat
  7. Similar Species
  8. Caution
  9. Related Links

Name: Eastern bracken, Pteridium aquilinum (L.) Kuhn var. latiusculum (Desf.) Underw.,

Other Names: fougère d'aigle, Bracken, Bracken fern, Brake, Fiddlehead, Pasture-brake, grande fougère, fougère à l'aigle

Family: Fern Family (Polypodiaceae)

General Description: Perennial. Never has flowers or seeds but reproduces by spores and by shallow or deep, widely spreading, dark brown underground stems.

Photos and Pictures

Eastern bracken, side view (scale units = 10 cm, 4 in).

Eastern bracken, side view (scale units = 10 cm, 4 in).

Eastern bracken, 2 shoots viewed from above.

Eastern bracken, 2 shoots viewed from above.

Eastern bracken. A. Leaf (frond). B. Underside of portion of leaf showing spore-producing area along margins.

Eastern bracken. A. Leaf (frond). B. Underside
of portion of leaf showing spore-producing
area along margins.

Leaves: Young leaves (crosiers) are curled like a fiddlehead as they emerge from the ground. After straightening out, the leaf is compound with 3 main divisions from the tip of the leafstalk and all 3 redivided into numerous smaller divisions. The whole compound leaf may be 30-140cm (1-4½ft) long and 30-100cm (1-3 1/3ft) broad and has a triangular appearance. The leaf usually bends at the tip of the erect leafstalk, so that the 3 major divisions of the leaf are held more or less parallel to the ground surface. After midsummer, brown spores are produced in dense bands on the undersides of many of the leaf segments, but may be partly hidden at first by the inrolled leaf margins.

Habitat: Eastern bracken occurs throughout central, eastern, northern and northwestern Ontario in many soil types ranging from moist to dry situations, but usually near or under open woods.

Similar Species: It is distinguished by its bare, erect leafstalk at the tip of which the 3-parted compound leaf is held more or less parallel to the ground surface.

Caution: Leaves of Eastern bracken are poisonous to livestock both when fresh and dry in hay. Its poisonous properties are complex, including an interference with vitamin B. Recent evidence has indicated that leaves of Eastern bracken will produce certain types of cancer in cattle and in laboratory animals. The practice by some people of eating young crosiers of this fern in early spring as a "wild asparagus" should be strongly discouraged.

Related Links

... on general Weed topics
... on weed identification, order OMAFRA Publication 505: Ontario Weeds
... on weed control, order OMAFRA Publication 75: Guide To Weed Control

| Back to the Ontario Weeds Gallery |


For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300
E-mail: ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca