Meet Bracken Fern


Bracken fern is a native Midwestern fern you'll notice a lot in the fall. It turns a myriad of fall colors before finally crumpling to the ground and adding another layer to the topsoil each winter. Bracken fern can be identified but the tall stem that emerges and branches into three brackets. Bracken fern is poisonous to eat once it unfurls and is not particularly tasty as a fiddlehead. Some folks do forage and eat limited amounts of Bracken Fern Fiddleheads but it does contain a carcinogen and it causes the body to be unable to process B Vitamins so it is not at all recommended. If you're foraging, stick with Ostrich Fern fiddleheads.


Bracken Fern may not be especially edible but it is one tough plant. This fern is the first to pop up in burned or logged areas and promptly covers the entire area in a thigh high carpet of ferns. It's not difficult to walk through but the fronds cover the ground all summer so you can't see the ground you're walking on. Bracken fern grows by rhizome or root. And this fern's roots are deep.

They can send runners out 15 feet below the surface, making them impenetrable to fire, frost or backhoe. If you have bracken ferns in your yard, you have them forever. Mowing will keep the fronds at bay though and they aren't really much of a nuisance to homeowners. To farmers however it can be a challenge. Wild animals do not eat bracken but livestock will eat it and it is not particularly good for livestock either.


Bracken fern enjoys full sun and partial shade with well drained soil. In the fall it puts on a beautiful show - rising in shades of yellow, brown and green amidst the fall forest floor. Take a closer look and you'll notice beautiful patterns and shades of color on the individual leaves.

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