June 2015 Biodiversity Spotlight

Western bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum)


Photo courtesy of Aaron Stanley. All rights reserved.


Western bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum) is a species with a worldwide distribution. The taxonomy of the species is disputed, but the Catalogue of Life lists eight subspecies and one variety. Bracken fern occurs in a variety of habitats but is absent in hot and cold deserts.

Bracken fern serves as low quality forage for wildlife but is toxic to some species. Newly emerged fiddleheads are harvested and consumed by humans though the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified bracken fern as possibly carcinogenic (group 2B).

It is a competitive plant that will invade cultivated fields and disturbed areas. Bracken fern produces and releases allelopathic chemicals (biochemicals that influence the growth, survival, and reproduction of other organisms) which are thought to be a factor in its ability to dominate other vegetation.


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