Bracken fern (Pteridium) is a type of large coarse fern in the Dennstaedtiaceae family. Ferns (aka Pteridophyta) are plants that are vascular in nature, having alternating generations. They also include quite large plants (producing spores) and smaller plants (producing sex cells, i.e., eggs and sperm). Bracken ferns are fairly well known for their large, highly divided leaves.
Bracken fern also is the most widely distributed fern in the entire world. In fact, bracken ferns can be found on every continent worldwide, with the exception of Antarctica. They can also be found in every type of environment, except for deserts, however, the typical habitat for this breed of fern is actually moorland. This is why it’s often known by people in northern England as ‘Moorland Scrub.’
The bracken fern’s name comes from Old Norse, a language that’s Germanic in origin and people spoke it in Scandinavia throughout the Viking Age prior to 1300. The name is related to the Danish word “bregne” and/or the Swedish word “bräken,” both of which mean “fern.” Currently, bracken ferns are divided into approximately ten species. Much like many other types of ferns, they don’t have any seeds or bear any fruit, however, the immature fronds (aka fiddleheads) are eaten sometimes. The problem with that is that some of them can be carcinogenic.
When it comes to evolution, the bracken fern is often considered to be at the top of the list of ferns that are exceptionally successful worldwide. In addition, it also happens to be one of the oldest in history, having fossil records found that are more than over 55-million years old. This fern can send up triangular fronds that are quite large from wide-creeping underground rootstocks, forming dense thickets. The rootstock is capable of traveling one or more meters between fronds underground. In fact, those fronds are capable of growing 2.5 m (8.2 ft) or longer with proper support, however, they typically range approximately 0.6–2 m (2.0 to 6.6 ft) high. When they’re living in a cold environment, bracken ferns are deciduous (falling off at maturity), requiring very well-drained soil, and are usually discovered growing on hillsides.
Although the native perennial bracken fern is found mainly in open forests, it also occurs on land that has been cleared. It has the ability to form extensive populations, making it quite difficult to manage. This plant’s extensive root system is made up of lots of very fine roots within the surface of the soil, enabling it to effectively compete with other plants for nutrients and moisture. It then becomes tough to manage by forming extensive unwanted populations.
The plant’s dead fronds will end up remaining in the stand, forming dense mulch all over the ground. This can inhibit the growth and germination of other plants, which includes pasture species and lawns. In addition, bracken ferns can regenerate very rapidly following a fire, dominating areas that have been recently burnt. Bracken fern infestations can spread locally via its hardy and very persistent root system, causing the infestation to grow and get thicker with time. In addition, its spores are often carried on the wind for long distances and spreading to uninfested areas can also be caused by machinery.
Controlling this type of fern requires long-term combined measures for effective weed control. A strategy needs to be aimed at both weakening the plant’s root system and killing its rhizomes. The majority of the fern’s energy is stored in its root system, allowing it to regenerate following any damage. Repetitive weed control applications are necessary for reducing and eventually killing the plant’s root system and preventing any further regeneration.
Burning isn’t an effective technique for controlling bracken because it can regenerate rapidly following burning due to the fact that the rhizomes that are underground will remain unharmed. There are a number of effective herbicides available for controlling bracken in pastures and for lawn care but not with just one single application. They also have to be applied from November to December or April to May when most of the fronds are completely unfurled.