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Pteridium aquilinum
Pteridium aquilinum (Bracken Fern)
Dennstaedtiaceae.  Synonym: Hypolepidaceae. (Bracken Family)

Montane, subalpine. Woodlands, openings. Spring.
Lizard Head Trail, June 9, 2006.

Bracken is often found in large colonies, frequently in the shade of Aspens.  Most other ferns in our area are quite small and dainty but Bracken is often 4-7 feet tall and each plant is several feet wide, often overlapping its neighboring Bracken forming a lacy thicket.  The young Bracken Ferns pictured are three feet tall and growing quickly. 

Bracken, like other ferns, has spore bodies rather than flowers, but Bracken reproduces almost exclusively by root growth.  Bracken’s roots are deep, making it very hardy and relatively impervious to drought or excesses of heat or cold.  It is thus our most common fern and, in fact, is one of the world’s most common ferns.

"Pteridium" is a diminutive of "Pteris", Greek for "fern", and "aquilinum" is from the Latin for "eagle" and refers to the large wing-like fronds of this very large fern.

Pteridium aquilinum

Pteridium aquilinum

Pteridium aquilinum (Bracken Fern)
Dennstaedtiaceae.  Synonym: Hypolepidaceae. (Bracken Family)

Montane, subalpine. Woodlands, openings. Spring.
Lizard Head Trail, June 9, 2006.

Oh, fiddleheads.

Pteridium aquilinum contains cyanogenic glycosides which break down to cyanides in animals (including human animals).  Our digestive system can break down small amounts of cyanides, such as those we might get from a few apple or pear seeds or a tiny amount of ferns, but larger amounts can lead to everything from "feeling bad", to breathing difficulties, to kidney failure, to death.  Even though some people continue to eat the very young, washed and then boiled fiddleheads of this and other ferns, there is considerable doubt regarding the safety of eating this plant.

Pteridium aquilinum

Pteridium aquilinum

Pteridium aquilinum (Bracken Fern)
Dennstaedtiaceae.  Synonym: Hypolepidaceae. (Bracken Family)

Montane, subalpine. Woodlands, openings. Spring.
Lizard Head Trail, September 15, 2010 and West Mancos Trail, October 2, 2012.

Bracken Ferns are subtle and lovely shades of yellows and browns in the fall.

Range map © John Kartesz,
Floristic Synthesis of North America

State Color Key

Species present in state and native
Species present in state and exotic
Species not present in state

County Color Key

Species present and not rare
Species present and rare
Species extirpated (historic)
Species extinct
Species noxious
Species exotic and present
Native species, but adventive in state
Eradicated
Questionable presence

Range map for Pteridium aquilinum